Chapter Summary

Chapter 9 explores the importance of state court systems in the legislative process. Paying particular attention to the process of judicial selection, the chapter examines the challenge of maintaining judicial accountability while preserving judicial independence. The process of judicial selection remains highly political: popular elections, both partisan and nonpartisan, maintain judicial accountability, executive and/or legislative judicial appointments preserve judicial independence. Judicial campaigns have become increasing political. Candidates are pouring more money into campaigns, particularly television ads, and interest groups are becoming more involved—which calls into question the notion of judicial independence.

The various actors in the judicial process, as well as important judicial provisions and the implications of these on court reform, are described later in the chapter. A significant problem facing state judicial systems is a rise in caseloads coupled with prison overcrowding. This problem has altered perceptions regarding sentencing guidelines and affected judges and their authority and the discretionary authority of prosecutors and defense attorneys. States have adopted programs, such as house arrest, halfway houses, alternative dispute resolution, and rocket-docket procedures, to alleviate overcrowding in prisons and to reduce the number of caseloads in their judicial systems. Judicial institutions remain highly political, with judicial decision making responding to various social and environmental constraints, including balancing the public’s desire to ensure both judicial accountability and judicial independence.