File this one under: Things courts do because they are big organizations.
Earlier this month, the Procurement Office of the United States Courts issued a Request for Information for a cloud-based learning management system that could accommodate up to 20,000 users. The purpose is to update the court system’s existing learning management system, and make it easier for federal court employees across the country to engage in web-based training.
This got a lot of attention among the private organizations that provide IT services to the government, but virtually no attention anywhere else. But it is a reminder that the primary theme of this blog — that court system are massive organizations whose day-to-day behavior mirrors that of other massive organizations — is in evidence behind the scenes on a regular basis.
When I began this blog in February 2017, I hoped that its growth would coincide with a renewed interest in the organizational nature of court systems, as well as a renewed appreciation for the history of court administration and management. Whether by coincidence or design, that wish has come true in at least one respect: a batch of new scholarship on Chief Justice William Howard Taft.
In addition to Jeffrey Rosen’s fine new biography of Taft and my own piece on Taft’s role in setting the stage for federal procedural rulemaking, this year has seen the publication of Kevin Burns’s lucid assessment of Taft’s chief justiceship in The Journal of Supreme Court History. Burns sets out the historical context of Taft’s time in the center chair, and beautifully illustrates Taft’s efforts to turn the federal court system into a truly centralized, autonomous branch of government. It’s a terrific introduction for those who are new to Taft’s legacy, and a useful reference for those already familiar with his career.
Burns adds his own take as well, arguing that many of Taft’s reforms were motivated by the explicit desire to increase court access for the poor. This was not merely a manifestation of the Progressive ethos of the 1920s: Burns argues that Taft understood access, in the form of faster and less expensive litigation, to help the courts as well as the litigants. More efficient case processing would lead to more confidence in the courts and less cynicism that the courts were simply the protectors of moneyed interests.
While I do not believe that access to courts was the sole–or even the primary–motivation for Taft’s reforms, the value of access was certainly consistent with his work, and Burns is right to bring it to light. Access also fits nicely with other values that motivated Taft’s administrative efforts, such as increasing the courts’ legitimacy, instilling respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, and securing greater internal control over the management of court resources. Burns’s piece is well worth the read.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s Religious Services Ministry has agreed to appoint a woman as deputy director of the country’s rabbinical courts sometime within the next three months. The decision comes in the wake of pressure from both Israel’s High Court of Justice and the women’s rights organization Mavoi Satum.
The decision to break the gender barrier for the rabbinical courts, even for a purely administrative appointment, offers some surprising insights into the relationship between the rabbinical courts, Israel’s secular judicial system, and the society in which they both operate. More after the jump.
Continue reading “How a single ministerial appointment provides a window into the institutional character of courts”
I have recently become fascinated with the work of William Howard Taft, a man who approached the Presidency like a judge and the Chief Justiceship like an executive. Taft was an extraordinary judicial reformer, not because of his judicial opinions (although he authored hundreds during his time on the Court) but because of the “executive principle” he brought to managing the federal court system. In just nine years as Chief Justice, Taft personally lobbied for and secured legislation increasing the number of federal judges, dramatically reducing the Supreme Court’s mandatory caseload, and authorizing the courts to developing internal administration through what would become the Judicial Conference of the United States. Taft also set the groundwork for the Rules Enabling Act (allowing the federal courts to develop their own uniform procedural and evidentiary rules).
Professor Justin Crowe’s article, The Forging of Judicial Autonomy, vividly and concisely describes how Taft turned a highly dependent, decentralized federal court system into a modern organization in less than a decade. Crowe focuses his article around two major pieces of legislation: a 1922 Act which added 24 new federal judges and created the Judicial Conference’s predecessor, the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges; and the Judiciary Act of 1925, which eliminated most of the Supreme Court’s obligatory caseload. These Acts were not, Crowe argues, inevitable — or even desired — by Congress. Rather, they were the result of a “judicial autonomy” forged by Taft, who combined relentless entrepreneurship with existing social networks and willingness to embrace modern management theories.
Continue reading “Interdependence classics: Justin Crowe, The Forging of Judicial Autonomy: Political Entrepreneurship and the Reforms of William Howard Taft”
Two articles published seven years apart beautifully illustrate the explosion of organizational theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the ways in which that theory began to be applied to the courts. In a sense, they are perfect bookends for that era. Lawrence Mohr’s 1976 Organizations, Decisions, and Courts is decidedly agnostic as to whether courts should even be considered organizations; by 1983, the answer was sufficiently obvious that Herbert Jacob simply entitled his piece Courts as Organizations.
Both articles carefully explore the organizational contours of court systems, and the ways in which courts operate differently from private sector firms. The articles also reflect the changing understanding of organizations In the 1970s. The developments of that era opened the door for an entire field of court management.
More on both articles and their historical context after the jump.
Continue reading “Interdependence Classics: Lawrence Mohr, Organizations, Decisions, and Courts; Herbert Jacob, Courts as Organizations”