Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Judicial Integrity and Budget Cuts in the States: Is the Devil in the Details?

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Judicial Integrity and Budget Cuts in the States: Is the Devil in the Details?

Article excerpt

Judges and scholars have asserted that many state legislatures may threaten judicial integrity though severe budget cuts. Specifically, state court judges are facing difficult salary cuts as a result of current budget battles, which may be triggered in part by policy conflicts over the public interest between majoritarian legislatures and rights-oriented judges. While Article III of the U.S. Constitution protects federal judges' salaries from budget battles, state constitutional protections are varied, even nonexistent, in a significant number of states. We develop a correlational model of the factors correlated to state constitutional protections of state judges' salaries (N=50), as well as a path analysis of correlates to state spending on courts. We examine possible influences on state constitutional protections of judicial salaries and state spending on courts, such as indicators of state political ideology, socioeconomic condition of the states, and the state court system and conditions of the state judiciary. Our findings and discussion may be of further utility in predicting changes in state constitutional protections of judicial integrity.

As you know, the Judicial Branch does not have programs that it can cut or delay. Respectfully, we are the program. New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr., State of the Judiciary Speech, March 25, 2009 (Flango, et al. 2009: ix).

You start with fat, then you go to muscle. We're at bone now. Florida Circuit Judge Margaret Steinbeck, Lee County, July 26, 2009 (Flango, et al. 2009: x).

I'm facing a 6% ordered cut . . . and how do you handle that? What do you do to save face with the general public? Because what happens is you get a backdoor response. Well, then they start checking your key card: "Well, you came in at 9:15 in the morning. You should have been here at 9:00. If you want to get your cases through, then do the work on time and don't leave before 4:30." And then, of course, that is just a fire for the press and it goes on and, all of a sudden, because you fought over a budget cut, you are now facing a public outcry as to your work habits and schedule, and we're getting hammered on that. The question here is the judicial independence. How has anyone handled that with budget cuts? Judge Michael A. Cicconetti (Cicconetti et al., 2005: 12).

In the wake of the "Great Recession," tax revenues in the states have declined precipitously, at first draining budget reserves, now cutting necessary services and hurting families, the poor, and the ill. Households and businesses respond by spending less in a continuing downward economic cycle. Federal recovery act dollars, tax increases, and federal aid to states have slowed this economic descent, but it may be years before state revenues recover. Since 2008, at least forty-six states and the District of Columbia have enacted budget cuts, such as higher education, K-12 education, health care, services to the elderly and disabled, and other vital areas. While state tax revenues to pay for services declined in the recession, demand for these services rose as those facing hard times and unemployment have increased. New rounds of cuts go further and further (Johnson, Oliff, and Williams, 2011). Questions that guide the research: What is the impact of this budget hacking and cutting on state courts and judges? What is the reality of state budget cuts to courts and judicial salaries in recent fiscal distress? What state constitutional protections exist against such cuts? What correlates to such protections? And what does this imply about judicial integrity in the face of apparent threats to cut court and judicial salaries? How do you handle judicial integrity with budget cuts?

First, we examine the reality of the impact of recent, harsh state budgetary cuts on court operations and judicial salaries. In these hard times, scholars and professionals have complained of budgetary assaults on the judicial integrity of state courts by the other branches of government (e. …

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