Judicial Branch

Chapter 5 of the 2011 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

Like most states, Alabama is currently facing the crisis of an overcrowded prison population and a recidivism rate that significantly threatens public safety and exacerbates already bleak state and local government budget shortfalls. Rather than continue to spend vast sums of money on a system that is clearly broken, Alabama is beginning the process of interbranch cooperation to implement effective reforms in the areas of sentencing and corrections at the state and local levels. A number of efforts are currently underway. For the sake of public safety and stark financial reality, Alabama must continue to modify its laws and carry out reforms to lower the costly burden of corrections and stop the revolving door of recidivism.

In the November 2010 retention elections in Iowa, out-of-state special interest groups funded a vigorous campaign to oust three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court who had joined in the court’s unanimous decision declaring Iowa’s defense of marriage act a violation of the equality clause of the Iowa Constitution. The avowed purpose of these groups was to send a message across the country that judges ignore the will of the people at their peril. Intimidation of judges and retaliation against judges who make politically unpopular decisions undermine our Founding Fathers’ vision of a society governed by the rule of law. “Judicial independence is the vital mechanism that empowers judges to make decisions that may be unpopular but nonetheless correct. ... And it gives life to the promise that the Rule of Law safeguards the minority from the tyranny of the majority.”1

The US Supreme Court has upheld an appellate ruling that California cannot regulate the sale or rental of violent video games to children.

While women continue to make gains in terms of their participation in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government, more progress is needed before they will reach parity with their male counterparts.

 

State courts are improving public service by adopting the CourTools Access and Fairness survey to gather the views of court users. Key issues of access to court services and fairness in court proceedings are highlighted.

Budget crises associated with the general economic downturn overshadowed other issues confronting the state courts. Judicial branches developed objective measures of their efficiency, accessibility, and fairness to demonstrate their accountability for how public funds are spent. Courts also helped lead interbranch efforts to confront problems like mortgage foreclosures and child abuse and neglect.

Thirty nine states elect some or all of their judges. In 2008, the trend continued toward costly and negative campaigns dominated by the efforts of interest groups rather than the candidates themselves. Local elections in three states gave comfort to proponents of non-contestable races but prospects for state level changes remain unclear.

This article investigates the nature and extent to which state courts are racially and ethnically diverse. Judicial diversity is examined for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. The findings indicate that only modest increases in judicial diversity have occurred in the states’ major appellate and trial courts since 2008. Minority judges are more likely to obtain seats on state courts through gubernatorial appointment, especially in states that formally use elections to select judges. This research underscores the complexity of state judicial selection and the role governors play in increasing racial and ethnic judicial diversity.

CSG South

Throughout America’s history, there has been protracted debate over the best method of selecting judges. The dilemma has been how to select judges by means consistent with the nation’s democratic values, and at the same time insulating the bench from political and special interest influence. The debate has come to the forefront in recent years as judicial elections in a number of states have become increasingly costly, contested and negative. This Southern Legislative Conference Regional Resource examines state judicial selection methods, primarily in the South, along with the opinions of several legal scholars and practitioners.

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