Judges must work to reinvigorate public trust in all courts across the land

Bob Bray, Executive Director, Council of State Court Judges, recommended this article by Judge Kevin S. Burke, a Hennepin County, MN, district judge, for inclusion in the Courts Journal. Below is an excerpt of "Judges must work to reinvigorate public trust" first published in the Star Tribune (MN).

Public trust in the courts has dropped to an all-time low. Unfortunately, some judges are contributing to this loss of trust. And as the saying goes, the self-inflicted wounds hurt the most.
• In a recent Gallup survey, 53 percent of people said they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the judiciary’s ability to do its job. That’s only marginally better than the other two branches of government — 45 percent said they trusted the executive branch to do its job, while only 32 percent said the same of the legislative branch.
• In 2009, 76 percent expressed trust in the judicial branch, 61 percent in the executive branch and 45 percent in the legislative branch.
• Seven in 10 Americans say that when deciding cases, the justices of the Supreme Court “are often influenced by their own political views.” A mere 24 percent say the justices “generally put their political views aside” when deciding cases. The belief that justices are swayed by their own political views spans partisan and demographic groups.
• There is a danger that a billion or so advertising dollars soon to be aimed at the election of a new president and Congress will paint graphic pictures of the impending apocalypse that will erode trust in government even more dramatically. The erosion of trust is a paramount issue and something needs to be done about it.
• Part of the essence of an effective judiciary is respect for differing opinions on critical issues. Judges, if we try, can model behavior for the other branches of government.

• The vast majority of courts in this nation periodically take stock, and some even adopt strategic plans. But regardless of whether it is a prayer for the judiciary or a strategic plan, the U.S. Supreme Court needs to open this term with a singular focus upon building trust — and every judge in the United States needs to join in this crusade.
• Our explanations need to be clear, understandable and judicial in tone and temper, avoiding intemperate shades of self-interest. Last term, the Supreme Court issued relatively few decisions, but used a record number of words to do so. But the commitment to readable and interesting explanations lies with every judge.
• Most people will never experience having their case decided by the Supreme Court. But regardless of whether theirs is a traffic case or a divorce, the court’s explanation needs to build trust in the legitimacy of our decisions.
• When the millions of people leave our state and federal courts in the next year, it would be nice if they said: “I was heard. I was treated with respect. I understood the decision.”
For the full article, go here.

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