Very Long-Range Judicial Planning in the Public Policy Process

Article excerpt

Nearly two-thirds of the American states have produced reports that seek to understand the 20-30 year future for judiciaries. This article overviews a set of those reports.l The present is seen to trump the future in the sense that the reports largely fail to display the language, tools, and predictions that might be expected from "futurology." Instead, the reports are well-grounded in the professional interests of judges and designed to advance the well-being of judiciaries in familiar inter-branch contests for resources and policy leadership. Ultimately, the reports are policy formulation documents and, on their own terms, significant and successful.

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

This article seeks to understand an especially interesting series of documents: the very long range planning reports issued by nearly two-thirds of the American state judiciaries. The reports seek to chart how to achieve preferred conditions for the courts some twenty-five or thirty years hence. As documented by Dahlin (1994) and Holmes (1994), the planning work occurred within the short space of about a half-decade. Virginia's report was published in 1989 as was Arizona's; Michigan's and New Hampshire's in 1990; Utah's in 1991; Massachusetts, Colorado, and Illinois followed in 1992; California's 1993 Justice in the Balance, 2020 sought to comment on the conditions for courts two decades into the twenty-first century (i.e., 2020) and to do so clearly (the play on words is 20/20 vision).

The proximate explanation for the burst of work was interest on the part of the State Justice Institute (SJI), an entity supported by Congress and in the business of funding court "future projects." The availability of the money made it very much the thing to do for state administrative offices of the courts to establish a mixed lay/bar commission seeking to envision the future. However, helpful SJI funding was not the only thing to make long-range planning seem attractive. Also available were tools for analysis and the apparent of large change.

As for tools, the work of Dator (1981) and Bezold (1991) is notable. Energetic scholars with a big idea, the pair worked hard with the Hawaiian judiciary to develop ways and means of assessing the future. By the last half of the 1980s, the pair had plausible methods in hand and experience with applying them in the island state. Allen (1978:79) captured the purpose of futures research: "[Broadening] the concept from simple forecasting to ... attempts to explain the effects of various actions so that effective policies can be generated, thereby creating the future conditions deemed desirable" (cf. Lipset, 1983).

Nine states reports constitute the present focus, those from Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Utah, and Virginia. These reports are among the more energetic products respectively of substantial effort involving "blue ribbon" lay/bar commissions. Dahlin's (1994) overview of longrange planning reports from twelve states will also provide useful comparative reference. He reviews Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah, and Virginia.

First is an overview and analysis of the state reports. Part II strikes out on a different tack, focused on the interests of judiciaries and of judges per se. Conclusions and implications wrap things up in Part III.

I. OVERVIEW OF STATE REPORTS

The state reports contained hundred of specific recommendations, yet five key dimensions dominate them, roughly at the level of chapter topics within the book-length commission products.

Public Knowledge Levels and Public Trust. Overall, concerns for public trust were widespread in the reports and an appropriate focus for the work of the commissions. After all, levels of public trust as measured in public opinion surveys appear to come close to the heart of the judicial function, to legitimize. …