Is there any aspect of our republic more essential to its effectiveness and continuity than the independence of our nation’s courts and their ability to uphold the Rule of Law?
Increasing contentiousness in the confirmation of federal district and circuit judges, as evidenced by declining confirmation rates and growing lengths of time between nomination and confirmation, is a byproduct of the political polarization that has limited the federal government’s ability to perform basic functions.
State courts play a vital role in our democracy. Recent empirical studies have shown that state court judges today are under terrific pressure to be accountable to political forces rather than the state and federal constitutions and laws.
Particularly when consumers or employees are up against corporations, the right of access to the courts has not been upheld and given the attention needed from the Supreme Court.
The money flooding into state judicial elections pressures judges to favor their own party in deciding election disputes. This trend is a threat to democracy and a warning sign that powerful interest groups may have succeeded in using campaign money to undermine impartial justice.
Like the cycle of poverty, those who are poor and caught up in the criminal legal system can find it a nearly impossible pattern to break. Often beginning from unpaid fines, jail sentences can grow exponentially for those who don’t have the means to pay fines or seek representation.
To understand the issues before them, judges must be somewhat technologically savvy, but there currently exists a distance of use and application and a lack of knowledge of technology among our country’s judges.
The role of tribal courts continues to be misunderstood and undermined as a serious judicial structure, particularly in cases where a non-Indian is involved.
Throughout history, the severity with which children are punished has varied in the criminal justice system. Currently, there is a commitment to trying children in a separate juvenile justice system instead of with adults, and hopefully this trend continues.
Abner J. Mikva, who died last year, was a believer in the courts and in the profound role judges should play. Above all, he said, judges must possess courage, especially to protect rights and serve as a check on government power.