For Courts Struggling to Recover from Crippling Budget Cuts, More Help Is on the Way

Article excerpt

The National Center for State Courts and Justice at Stake have teamed up to identify strategies and messages - some of them counterintuitive - to help courts make a stronger case for adequate funding.

Their new guide, "Funding Justice: Strategies and Messages for Restoring Court Funding," is based on an extensive nationwide opinion research project. The research included focus groups, a nationwide poll of American voters, and one-on-one interviews with Chief Justices, legislators, and others who have been closely involved in the debates around court funding in the states.

Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts, and Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake executive director, write in an introduction to the guide that "the judiciary's treasured constitutional role has not spared it from the budget axe." They explain, "Nearly every court in the United States has been shaken by the Great Recession, as economic contraction has devastated state budgets, forced the slashing of thousands of jobs, and closed courthouse doors. Judicial leaders have scrambled to tighten their belts, innovate, and blunt the damage to their budgets."

The opinion research underscores how tough the challenge is: the public is sour on government, loathe to spend money, and unaware of how court budget cuts are damaging the justice system and the economy. There are no silver bullets.

Instead, the results point towards a two-tiered strategy: focus on budget policy makers in the short-term, and commence a longer-term campaign to educate and persuade the public. The research identified several strategies for building support:

* Embrace demands for austerity, and show how courts will be effective stewards of taxpayer dollars. …