An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Fall 2008

State courts & judicial outreach

Ruth V. McGregor

Ruth V. McGregor is Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. She joined the Court in 1998 and served as Vice Chief Justice from 2002–2005.

State-court judges are no strangers to community outreach.1  Because most come from and remain an integral part of the communities in which they sit, state-court judges have long played an active role in interacting with those whom they serve. During the last decade, however, state courts have redefined their role in reaching out to communities and, almost without exception, have significantly expanded their outreach efforts.

The increased attention to community outreach programs parallels, and no doubt largely resulted from, attacks on judicial independence that developed during the last ten years. For better or worse, we have a “long and distinguished” tradition of “[b]ashing judges” in the United States.2  Our history is filled with attacks that have threatened both decisional and institutional judicial independence.3  The most recent sequence of attacks seems to have begun with a series of events that occurred in the mid-1990s. In 1996, three incidents arguably signified the beginning of a new era of judicial criticism. First, congressional leaders and the president harshly criticized U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer for granting a suppression motion in a politically charged drug case, eventually urging his resignation and threatening impeachment.4 Shortly thereafter, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White was defeated in a retention election that centered around her concurrence in an opinion that remanded a death penalty case for resentencing.5 And on June 4, 1996, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge H. .  .  .


  • 1The ideas in this essay were first presented at the 2007 conference on The Debate over Judicial Elections and State Court Judicial Selection, convened by the Sandra Day O’Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center. A modified version of this essay appears in The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 21 (4) (Fall 2008).
  • 2Archibald Cox, “The Independence of the Judiciary: History and Purposes,” University of Dayton Law Review 21 (1996): 574.
  • 3Ibid., 574–575
  • 4Kahn Zemans, “The Accountable Judge: Guardian of Judicial Independence,” Southern California Law Review 72 (1999): 626–627.
  • 5Ibid., 627.
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