The ABA Judicial Division Turns 100: The Vanderbilt Reforms

Vol. 53 No. 1

Peter M. Koelling is the director and chief counsel of the ABA Judicial Division. Koelling was a law clerk for the Texas Supreme Court, was in private practice and has worked in court administration in Texas, Washington, and Colorado. He also holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University.

Dean Roscoe Pound’s speech to the ABA and Herbert Harley’s letter on the Administration of Justice started the bench, the profession, and the public thinking about how the system could be improved. This resulted in the creation of the Judicial Section. In the decades following, there was discussion and research about judicial reform, but, frankly, very little change had come about. Against this resistance there were still a number of people who pursued the ideas of reform. One who took up pursuit of these ideas was Arthur T. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was chair of the New Jersey Judicial Council from 1930 to 1947. He thought that Pound’s and Harley’s ideas had merit and that it was vital to improve the structure and administration of the courts and the rules of procedure and evidence. Vanderbilt observed that the focus of the profession had been on substantive law, not procedure. Although states would share principles of substantive law, procedural rules and practices, no matter how effective or innovative, were not being shared and applied by other states. With the New Deal, the pace of change to the structure and role of government in the 1930s was staggering at both the federal and state levels, but reform within court systems was glacial.

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