Judicial Branch

The legislative and executive branches have been in a longstanding gridlock, making it difficult to assess their standing on federalism. 

But the U.S. Supreme Court has made its standing clear. The last two Supreme Court terms have produced four blockbuster decisions. All four of these cases have one thing in common—federalism.<--break->

Recent reports about state courts invariably highlight contention over how judges are selected and the unrelenting decline in court budgets. This report is no different. But behind the saga of inadequate court resources and the presence of big money, special interest influence and partisanship in the selection of judges, other significant stories are playing out. State courts are striving to innovate by applying the latest technology to the courthouse and courtroom. State courts also are looking for advice from new media experts about new ways to communicate with the public and improve court processes, as well as how to adapt those processes to ensure trials remain fair in a digital world. Evidence on the value of implementing procedural fairness as a mechanism for reducing recidivism was reinforced by a new community court evaluation.
 
In this difficult fiscal climate, every branch of state government feels the pressure of tightening budgets. State court systems are no exception.1 For the judiciary to manage caseloads effectively, dispose of court business without delay and deliver quality service to the public, adequate resources are essential.2 Meeting this challenge requires states to assess objectively the number of judges required to handle caseloads, as well as whether judicial resources are being allocated equitably and used prudently. State court systems are increasingly using the weighted caseload method of judicial workload assessment as a best practice. This article describes the basic mechanics of workload assessment and illustrates how it is being used in several states facing a variety of budgetary and judicial staffing issues.
 

Chapter 5 of the 2013 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s October Term 2012 includes a number of significant cases affecting the states including two same-sex marriage cases, a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and a claim that the National Voting Registration Act preempts Arizona’s evidence-of-citizenship requirement to register to vote.
 

Last year, it was health care and immigration reform. This year, the big state issues before the U.S. Supreme Court generally fall into two broad categories—environmental and searches cases. The court also will hear a couple of cases of interest to states that don’t fall into those broad categories, Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, said during a preview of state-related cases expected in the 2013 Supreme Court term during a webinar last week.

To say the Supreme Court’s October 2011 term was “all about the states” is hardly an overstatement.  The two most prominent cases of the term—the Affordable Care Act case and the Arizona immigration case—were both about states’ rights.  (And if the Court takes a gay marriage case next term it will be states’ rights round two). 

State courts in 2011 continued to face acute problems associated with contention over judicial selection, unrealistic budget allocations and attacks on the legitimacy of the state court’s role as arbiter of the constitutionality of state laws. Sound leadership is a key ingredient to overcoming these and other pressing challenges. Steps taken to strengthen and reinvigorate judicial leadership were among the more newsworthy developments of 2011. Those steps included efforts to enlist new understandings of what compels people to obey the law in order to better guide court management and court reform.

The fields of medicine, education, child welfare, mental health, probation and corrections have all been influenced by evidence-based practices. In essence, evidence-based practices are a set of guidelines—based upon rigorous research, evaluations and meta-analysis—that have proved effective in improving decision making and outcomes. In the medical world, for example, evidence-based practice refers to the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”1 Only recently, however, has this approach spilled over into state courts in the form of providing decision-making tools for judges at the time of criminal sentencing.

In its October Term 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide four significant and prominent federalism cases involving states. These cases include the Affordable Care Act cases, the Arizona immigration case, the Texas redistricting case and the California Medicaid case. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed amicus curiae briefs in four cases to be decided this term affecting state and local government, including the California Medicaid case.

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