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A written application from a person or persons to some governing body or public official asking that some authority be exercised to grant relief, favors, or privileges.

A formal application made to a court in writing that requests action on a certain matter.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees to the people the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances. Petitions are also used to collect signatures to enable a candidate to get on a ballot or put an issue before the electorate. Petitions can serve as a way of pressuring elected officials to adhere to the position expressed by the petitioners.

The right to petition the government for correction of public grievances derives from the English Magna Charta of 1215 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. One of the colonists' objections to British rule before the American Revolution was the king's refusal to act on their petitions of redress. The Founders attempted to address this concern with the First Amendment, which affirms the right of the people to petition their government. Almost all states adopted similar guarantees of petition in their own constitutions.

Between 1836 and 1840, abolitionists collected the signatures of two million people on petitions against Slavery and sent them to the U.S. House of Representatives. In the early twentieth century, states passed laws allowing initiative (the proposing of legislation by the people) and recall (an election to decide whether an elected official should be removed from office). Both processes start with the collection of a minimum number of signatures on a petition. Small political parties often use petitions to collect signatures to enable their candidates to be placed on the election ballot.

Petitions are also directed to courts of law and administrative agencies and boards. A petition may be made ex parte (without the presence of the opposing party) where there are no parties in opposition. For example, the executor of an estate may file a petition with the probate court requesting approval to sell property that belongs to the estate or trust.

In contested matters, however, the opposing party must be served with the petition and be given the opportunity to appear in court to argue the merits of the issues it contains. A prisoner may file a petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus, in which the prisoner requests a hearing to determine whether he or she is entitled to be released from custody because of unconstitutional or illegal actions by the government. The prisoner must serve the government office that prosecuted him or her with a copy of the petition. The writ of habeas corpus, like many other types of writs, is discretionary; the court is free to deny the petition.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1) n. a formal written request to a court for an order of the court. It is distinguished from a complaint in a lawsuit which asks for damages and/or performance by the opposing party. Petitions include demands for writs, orders to show cause, modifications of prior orders, continuances, dismissal of a case, reduction of bail in criminal cases, a decree of distribution of an estate, appointment of a guardian, and a host of other matters arising in legal actions. 2) a general term for a writing signed by a number of people asking for a particular result from a private governing body (such as a homeowners association, a political party, or a club). 3) in public law a petition may be required to place a proposition or ordinance on the ballot, nominate a person for public office, or demand a recall election. Such petitions for official action must be signed by a specified number of registered voters (such as five percent). 4) v. making a formal request of a court, presenting a written request to an organization's governing body signed by one or more members. 5) in some states a suit for divorce is entitled a petition, and the parties are called petitioner and respondent. (See: motion, writ, divorce, petitioner)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


a formal application in writing made to a court asking for some specific judicial action. In Scotland there is a technical distinction between a petition and a summons.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

PETITION. An instrument of writing or printing containing a prayer from the person presenting it, called the petitioner, to the body or person to whom it is presented, for the redress of some wrong, or the grant of some favor, which the latter has the right to give.
     2. By the constitution of the United States the right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances," is secured to the people. Amend. Art. 1.
     3. Petitions are frequently presented to the courts in order to bring some matters before them. It is a general rule, in such cases, that an affidavit should be made that the facts therein contained are true as far as known to the petitioner, and that those facts which he states as knowing from others be believes to be true.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
Christians usually consider petitionary prayer the most basic form of prayer: this was the prayer form that Jesus himself used and taught his disciples to use.
Of those surviving letters, the majority are petitionary letters, with a number of those attributed to estate servants who were primarily responsible for overseeing operations on remote estates.
(3.)One point I made in my previous article on this topic needs modification: rather than say that the segment of gemara on Berakhot 20b is ambiguous about the nature of prayer, I would say that it clearly decides that prayer is a time-bound positive mizvah and women are obligated for a special reason -- because prayer is petitionary. A better translation of the text is as follows: one might think that daily time-bound rabbinic prayer is like a positive time-bound mizvah, because of the verse, "evening, morning, and afternoon" [and that women are therefore exempt, as they generally are from such mizvot]; the [tanna therefore] comes to teach us [that such prayer is a positive time-bound mizvah but women are, nevertheless, obligated for the special reason mentioned above!.
defence of the cogency of this form of petitionary prayer--the Just Ask
This volume's special section looks at prayer, exploring such topics as a tangible connection to the divine: an exploration of the power and utility of prayer objects, folding your hands helps God hear you: prayer and anthropomorphism in parents and children, how young adult Middle Eastern Muslims interpret various prayer positions in salat, and a descriptive and exploratory study of whether petitionary prayer is immature but common among Christians.
When I say that my prayers put me in mind of forgiveness, I'm describing a meditative benefit rather than a petitionary one, closer to the inner peace that I sought in the transcendental meditation book than to the favors I requested in "Now I Lay Me"--in the former case, I'm not asking for any blessings that I am not able to confer upon myself.
(29) Similarly, Ernst Ludwig Rathlef recommended a virtuous life in combination with petitionary prayers against locust damage, and Friedrich Christian Lesser believed praying to be supportive against insect pests in general.
Suppose that they are correct in that belief: Jehovah exists and is receptive to petitionary prayer and, provided that a large majority pray, Jehovah will assist them.
James (1902/1958) observed differences in those who prayed, pointing out that some focus on petitionary prayers rather than more meditative experiences of communing with God.
(16) Mills argues that "maister" and "gentil man" have "been drained of their overtones of moral worth and social dignity," asking rhetorically whether the "petitionary poem [is] merely an extension of the tradesman's obsequiousness" (103).
and petitionary, was intended to elicit formal relations and perhaps
Mapping the Landscape of Digital Petitionary Prayer as Spiritual/Social Support in Mobile, Facebook, and E-mail.