Starving the Courts

In the latest issue, The Economist gives a startling look on the dire situation of courts in America. Budget cuts and, at the federal level, political obstruction have fostered delays and case backlogs. Some of the dire consequences:

  • In California, uncontested divorces now take a year to obtain.
  • One circuit court in Georgia has stopped civil adjudication (traffic offenses, etc.) altogether.
  • Courts in 14 states are closed on some work days.
  • One municipal court in Ohio stopped accepting new cases because it could not afford to buy paper.
  • New York judges’ pay has been frozen for a dozen years, even as their caseload has increased by 30%.
  • In Florida in 2009, according to the Washington Economics Group, the backlog in civil courts is costing the state some $9.8 billion in GDP a year.

And so on.

As a libertarian, I believe that the judicial function is a core function of government, and that government should fund it properly and do adjudication well. Judges should be highly paid and courthouses well staffed and efficiently run. Private arbitration is all well and good, but arbitration contracts ultimately depend on enforcement by the public courts. States should be increasing, not cutting, judicial budgets, even if they have to raise taxes or cut more severely other programs in order to do so.

3 thoughts on “Starving the Courts

  1. I agree with you about the paramount importance of the court system. Civil courts, should, in theory, fund themselves through fees. I would imagine many of the bogged down courts would not be so bogged down if fees charged were higher. When demand increases prices should rise, all else being equal.

    1. Good point. Perhaps legislatures could give courts a little more flexibility to set their own fees – limited, of course, since they are a monopoly supplier of their services.

  2. Because of my interest in public policy and belief in free markets, I came up with this thought. Why not pay the judges to adjudicate the parties’ case? Of course, there needs to be caveats to this new system but there will also be enormous upsides to it too. First and foremost, there needs to be impartiality. Thus, both sides must come to an agreement as to how much they will pay because they need to pay the same amount. That way, the judge should not be swayed by these payments. It is understood that the amount will probably be the highest the poorer party can afford and the richer party will have to come down to that amount.

    Second, the increase in compensation should attract the best and brightest minds to this profession per market forces of competition. As always, it is not the government’s business to ever cap what people make or what private parties willingly agree to pay another.

     Third, with the increase in the number of judges, cases will be heard faster with less delay just because right now there is the lack of judges, never mind good judges, handling the rising number of case loads.

    Fourth and most important point is that the parties are free to choose the judge they want and of course, they must mutually agree on which judge they want to pick. Per market forces of competition again, the judges will want to build up a reputation of being fair and impartial so that these are the judges who will be able to attract the best paying customers.

     As for people who are not able to pay additional amounts to have their cases heard quickly, perhaps,  judges will be asked to hear a percentage of cases with no additional payment except for their base salaries. And the upside again, justice should be fairer and swifter with the judges wanting to make a good name for themselves and the increase in the number of judges. Besides, for those who still cry foul, the current system is not giving anyone any true justice anyway. Isn’t it better that some are able to get some justice?

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