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Today is Law Day and what better occasion to highlight the serious consequences of an underfunded justice system for our country. “While these are difficult economic times, the failure to fund the justice system is deleterious to American democracy.” Read our full Law Day statement.
Our judicial branch of government – the system of courts - is essential to an effective, sustainable democracy and it must be well funded in order to ensure public trust. Of late, public trust in government has been battered, and handicapping our democracy by underfunding the judicial system simply adds to that mistrust. Public confidence and support for the courts is eroded by the most egregious effects of underfunding: decreasing court services and thereby delaying judicial proceedings.
One way to address the problem is to give courts as much control over their own budgets as possible. Budgetary control coupled with better communication between courts and state and local budget offices will go a long way in helping to alleviate this problem. Developing and sharing best practices in court funding models and determining national assessment standards for court administrators will also help by increasing transparency and effective budgeting practices. Finally, in states where there is no legislative mandate, state lawmakers should consider introducing legislation that sets a percentage of the state budget for the judiciary.
It is certainly understandable during tight economies to cut back wherever possible, but underfunding justice is a risk we simply should not be willing to take. Check out these Law Day 2012 resources from the American Bar Association and tell us what do you think we should do to help maintain this important branch of government?