Summer 2014

Trusting the Courts: Redressing the State Court Funding Crisis

Author
Michael J. Graetz
Abstract

In recent years, state courts have suffered serious funding reductions that have threatened their ability to resolve criminal and civil cases in a timely fashion. Proposals for addressing this state court funding crisis have emphasized public education and the creation of coalitions to influence state legislatures. These strategies are unlikely to succeed, however, and new institutional arrangements are necessary. Dedicated state trust funds using specific state revenue sources to fund courts offer the most promise for adequate and stable state court funding.

MICHAEL J. GRAETZ, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2004, is Columbia Alumni Professor of Tax Law at Columbia Law School and Justus S. Hotchkiss Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School. His most recent books include The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence (2013) and 100 Million Unnecessary Returns: A Simple, Fair, and Competitive Tax Plan for the United States (2008).

Let justice be done though the heavens fall.
–Lord Mansfield (1768)1

We Americans take it for granted that if we buy an automobile or marry someone and the car or spouse turns out to be a lemon, we can go into court to obtain relief. If we get into a dispute with our landlord or a tenant or with our family over a relative’s estate, a judge will be sitting in the local courthouse to resolve it. Surely, if confronted with domestic violence, we can promptly obtain a restraining order from a court nearby. If we are wrongfully arrested and charged with a crime, we take comfort in the fact that our constitution provides us the rights to counsel and a speedy trial, and we look forward to our day in court to vindicate ourselves. If we want to validate our rights to speak and worship freely, bear arms, or contribute vast sums to the political contender of our choice, we expect our claims to be heard promptly and fairly in a convenient courthouse.

The judiciary is the indispensable third branch of our democratic government, the one that peacefully resolves our disputes and most vigorously guarantees our liberty. Well-functioning courts are integral to our democracy. Our expectation that we can resolve .  .  .

Endnotes

  • 1Frequently quoted Latin maxim popularized by (and often attributed to) Lord Mansfield in Rex v. Wilkes (1768). See Fred Shapiro, The Yale Book of Quotations (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press 2006), 489. This quotation was used, for example, by Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of New York, in his report “The State of the Judiciary 2013,” available at http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/soj.htm.
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