July 01, 2013

The New Tradition of Judicial Outreach: Survey Evidence from the States

By Elisha Carol Savchak and Amanda Ross Edwards

Today’s judges are stepping away from their chambers and engaging with the public. Shunned in the past as inappropriate behavior for judges because of its detrimental effects on judicial legitimacy, outreach has become a widely accepted part, and even a duty, of the judicial role. Here, we describe the results of a nationwide survey of state supreme court justices about the current state of outreach practices across the country.1

The responses show that justices are generally very supportive of judicial outreach and agree that it is an important aspect of their job. As Table 1 shows, 84.9 percent indicated that outreach is “very important,” 13.1 percent termed it “somewhat important,” and only 1 percent called it “not very important.” Also, as Table 2 illustrates, justices are generally willing to accept requests to participate in outreach activities, with 72.7 percent of respondents characterizing their personal policy as to accept most requests to participate in outreach activities, while 19.2 percent accept some of the invitations they receive. But 8.1 percent of respondents indicated that they deal with each request individually and make these decisions on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, the importance of judicial outreach to the individual justice does not seem related to his or her invitation acceptance policy. Of the justices who agree that outreach is very important, some accept nearly all invitations, but some also evaluate requests individually. We conclude that even the justices who are most supportive of outreach activities are not simply willing to accept any invitation they receive.

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