I spent much of my legal career thinking of courts as part of the environment in which others operate. Individuals, businesses, and government agencies looked to the courts to settle specific disputes and provide guidance about the law. Courts therefore influence society every day, both directly and indirectly.
What I failed to fully appreciate is that society strongly influences courts as well. Other government branches, the legal profession, the media, and the public at large affect the way courts operate. The influence is usually not front page news, although it can be when the President publicly challenges a court decision (as the last two presidents have done), or when special interest groups threaten to vote state judges out of office. Frequently the influence is less newsworthy but more pronounced: a new statute that floods the courts with litigation, or delay in filling judicial vacancies, or budget crises that shutter courthouse doors and slow the wheels of justice.
Over the years, I have researched and taught on a wide range of topics related to the judiciary and the court system: judicial selection and evaluation, independence and accountability, judicial decision making, litigation case management, public perceptions of fairness and legitimacy, judicial reputation, bench presence, the exercise of judicial discretion, and ethics. Recently I have come to see that they are all parts of the same elephant. Courts are complex organizations, with challenging missions and multiple audiences. This blog is an effort to track more systematically the ways in which courts interact with their environments.