The month in a nutshell: the federal courts grapple with employee misconduct, while the state courts ask for more resources and offer more transparency.
The start of a new year is a time of formal reflection for American courts, and this year those reflections took a serious tone. In his 2017 Year-End Report, Chief Justice Roberts promised to establish a working group to review of the federal courts’ workplace conduct, and the members of that working group were announced two weeks later. A more curious announcement, issued on the eve of the brief federal government shutdown, assured the public that the courts could operate for three weeks without additional funding. The courts remained officially silent on the President’s federal judicial nominees, but it was encouraging to see that those positions are slowly being filled with seemingly qualified candidates.
Meanwhile, most state chief justices were preparing State of the Judiciary remarks for their respective legislatures. This is typically a time to request needed resources for the courts, and in some instances the lack of sufficient resources was a persistent theme. In Iowa, Chief Justice Mark Cady sounded the warning that budget cuts were straining the courts’ ability to provide efficient and effective access to justice. In Missouri, Chief Justice Zel Miller lobbied the legislature to place drug treatment courts in every county.
Other state courts made moves to increase transparency and public access. The Florida Supreme Court announced that it would broadcast (and archive) all oral arguments on Facebook Live, and Minnesota came closer to allowing cameras in its courtrooms on a permanent basis.
What should we expect for February? State election season is ramping up, federal judicial nominations continue, and India’s judicial crisis will not abate. More on these issues in the coming weeks.