American Judicial Power

American Judicial Power

The State Court Perspective

Elgar Monographs in Constitutional and Administrative Law series

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

American Judicial Power: The State Court Perspective is a welcome addition to the breadth of studies on the American legal system and provides an accessible and highly illuminating overview of the state courts and their functions.

Chapter 1: Context

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

Subjects: law - academic, constitutional and administrative law, politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy

Extract

Given the growth of federal judicial power since the 1930s and particularly its shift towards nationalizing individual rights protection, we are confronted today with important questions regarding the role of state courts. Do state courts really matter in the broader consequential or influential sense? Is not the emphasis on the role of federal courts so evident in academic scholarship and popular discourse an indication of the diminishing importance of state courts in our national life? Or stated simply, why should we really care about these institutions, how they work, and what makes them different? There are a number of ways to examine such questions. One could, for instance, consider the impact of state courts from a purely quantitative perspective examining the number of cases they handle comparable to their federal counterparts and extrapolating “impact” or “consequentialness” based purely upon numbers. In 2012, for example, the combined caseload of the federal courts was approximately 1.8 million cases of which some 1.37 million cases were bankruptcy cases. By comparison, in 2012, the state trial courts alone handled nearly 96 million cases or an average of nearly one case for every three members of the public. While there are approximately 870 authorized Article III federal judges, responsibility for the administration of justice in the states is vested in almost 17,900 state court judges representing a wide diversity in jurisdictional authority, qualifications, training, and selection processes.