State Courts Matter

State courts play a vital role in American democracy.

State courts handle more than 90 percent of the United States’ judicial business. Although vastly more attention is paid to the U.S. Supreme Court, it decides fewer than 100 cases each year, compared with over 100 million cases arising annually in the state courts. State courts handle the cases that are most likely to directly touch people’s lives: child custody, divorce, consumer disputes and criminal prosecutions.

In addition, just as the U.S. Supreme Court decides cases that have important and wide-ranging public policy implications, so too do the state supreme courts, deciding cases arising from state laws and constitutional provisions involving civil and human rights, environmental protections and the criminal justice system. State supreme courts decide who can get married to whom, who can vote, who can drink clean water and breath clean air, who the police can detain, search and arrest and who goes to jail and for how long.

In 2014, the Piper Fund’s Judicial Independence Project funded a set of research papers in order to better understand the role of state courts on various issues, and how those courts are being targeted. These papers, by prominent legal scholars, look at reproductive justice, environmental justice and voting rights, and are complemented by the Skewed Justice report sponsored by American Constitution Society that examines the impact of judicial elections on criminal justice.

 

"State Court Protection of Reproductive Rights: The Past, the Perils, and the Promise," Dawn Johnsen, Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Appendix A - "Compilation of Current Cases and Ballot Measures"

Appendix B -  "Anti-Abortion Efforts to Stack the State Courts"

"State Judicial Elections and Environmental Law:  Case Studies of Montana, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin," John Echeverria, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

"Skewed Justice," Dr. Joanna Shepherd and Dr. Michael S. Kang, Professors of Law, Emory Law School

"State Judges and the Right to Vote," Joshua A. Douglas, Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law

To learn more about the Piper Fund and its work, please visit this website.