Judicial Independence

Resource Guide

Justice depends upon the ability of judges to render impartial decisions based upon open-minded and unbiased consideration of the facts and the law in each case, as well as maintains public trust and confidence within the courts. Within the United States, justice manifests independence in decisional processes, as well as institutional operations, or the ability of the court to administer their own operations as part of an independent branch of government.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Judicial Independence

Gramckow, Heike. International Trends - Strengthening Judicial Independence and Accountability. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts.

Many countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia are undergoing significant changes to enhance judicial independence. Even established democracies struggle to ensure an independent judiciary. While there are different assumptions about how to structure an independent judiciary, there is general agreement on a number of key elements that must be structured to fit the needs and situation of any country striving to ensure judicial independence within a well-balanced democratic system.


Puiszis, Steve. Without fear or favor in 2011 : a new decade of challenges to judicial independence and accountability. (2011). DRI.

The examples outlined in several sections of this 2011 report provide stark reminders of how precarious judicial independence can be when there is inadequate funding for our courts.

Strengthening the Independence of the Judiciary and Access to Justice Lebanon SIJCAJ Project. (July 2009). Arlington, VA: National Center for State Courts This report shares strategies for enhancing judicial independence, approaching court administration reform, and improving public access to justice utilized in Lebanon.  
Westerland, Chad. When Courts and Congress Collide: The Struggle for Control of America's Judicial System. (2008). Justice System Journal (Vol. 29, No. 2).

This title is a significant contribution due to its exploration of the development and importance of judicial independence within a separation-of-powers framework.

Pryor, William H., Jr., Honorable. Judicial Independence and the Lesson of History. (September 2007). Alabama Lawyer Judge Pryor takes a close look at three instances in American history when judicial independence was under challenge, and discusses the importance of judicial independence today.
Swenson, Karen. Promotion of District Court Judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals: Explaining President Reagan's Promotions of His Own Appointees. (2006). Justice System Journal (Vol. 27, No. 2).

This article compares the records of district judges appointed by President Reagan and then promotes to a vacancy on a court of appeals to those whom he appointed to a district court but did not promote.

Gramckow, Heike. International Trends - Strengthening Judicial Independence and Accountability. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts.

This article discusses the key elements that are needed for any country striving to ensure judicial independence within a well-balanced democratic system.

Rodriguez, Eduardo. Judicial Independence: Reviewing a History Lesson. (2005).

This PowerPoint presentation is a Texas Bar Association initiative designed to be used as a tool to promote and illustrate the importance of an Independent Judiciary.

Hall, Daniel, Robert Tobin, and Kenneth Pankey Balancing Judicial Independence and Fiscal Accountability. (Summer 2004). Judges` Journal, Volume 43, Number 3, In times of fiscal crisis, the inherent tension among the branches becomes even more pronounced as the executive and legislative branches prune judicial budgets. 
Danos, Colleen with revisions by Kenneth Pankey. Fostering Judicial Independence in State and Federal Courts. (March 2003). Knowledge and Information Services Memorandum.

Judicial independence, the freedom of the judiciary to render justice fairly, impartially, in accordance with law and the United States Constitution, without threat, fear of reprisal, intimidation, or other undue influence or consideration, is a hallmark of American democracy.

Danos, Colleen. Judicial Election and Judicial Independence Concerns: Stepping Up to the Plate. (March 2003). Knowledge and Information Services Memorandum.

This staff memorandum discusses the relation of judicial selection methods, particularly judicial elections, to judicial independence. Concerns related to attacks on judicial candidates and attempts by business and political interests to influence judicial elections are examined.

Hall, Daniel, Jan M. Stromsem, and Richard Hoffman. Professional Court Administration: The Key to Judicial Independence. (2003).

This article reviews successful efforts in the countries of Latin America in establishing independent judiciaries.

Warren, Roger. The Importance of Judicial Independence and Accountability. (January 2003).

The cry for justice is universal. Responding to that cry all over the world, lawyers, judges, court administrators, and judicial educators seek to reform justice systems and promote the rule of law. At this time in our world's history, there is no higher calling. The rule of law is an essential feature of all democratic countries. The essential nature of democracy is government by, for, and of the people.

Keith, Linda Camp. Judicial Independence and Human Rights Protection Around the World. (January 2002). Judicature 85: 195 This article examines the progress countries have made in adopting international standards of constitutional (or formal) judicial independence from 1976-1996.  The authors also investigate the relationship -- if any -- between the constitutional provisions for judicial independence and the countries' levels of human rights protection.
Dann, Honorable B, Michael, Lynn Grimes, and David Rottman Editors. Focus: Reforming State Judicial Elections. (January 2002). Civil Action Vol, 1 Number 2.

"Call to Action" statement that came out of the Summit on Improving Judicial Selection. The purposes of the Summit were to discuss and recommend concrete steps to improve popular elections of judges and issue a Call To Action for states to implement.

Rottman, David. Call To Action With Commentary. (November 2002).

The "Call To Action" was issued by the participants in the National Summit on Improving Judicial Selection, held on December 8-9, 2000 in Chicago, Illinois. This new edition of the Call To Action provides a commentary that introduces the four sections of the Call To Action and provides background on the 20 recommendations.

Fein, Bruce, and Bert Neuborne. Why Should We Care About Independent and Accountable Judges?. (September 2000). Judicature 84: 58 This article discusses the importance of judicial independence in the United States.  The authors discuss how federal judges -- despite being popularly elected -- often reflect the will of the public since they are appointed by a popularly-elected President and confirmed by a popularly-elected Senate.  There is also brief discussion about the various types of judicial interpretations.
The Higher Ground: Standards of Conduct for Judicial Candidates. The Constitution Project This report is a public education program to inform voter when standards judicial candidates should follow in their election campaigns.

Campaign Finance

Williams, Margaret S. and Corey A. Ditslear. Bidding for Justice: The Influence of Attorneys' Contributions on State Supreme Courts. (2007). Justice System Journal (Vol. 28, No. 2).

This article examines the relationship between attorney contributions and the voting record of individual judges on the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, a state which has implemented reforms to curb the influrence of monetary contributions.

Sanchez, Samantha. Illinois Supreme Court: Money in Judicial Elections. (January 2002). Collection of data on the cost of judicial elections in Illinois, the identity of judicial campaign donors, the amount donors give, and the business interests of major donors, and whether or not major donors have appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court. 
Texas Supreme Court Clerk Perks: Big Bucks Batter an Ethical Wall. (January 2001). This report attempts to measure the scope of potential conflicts posed by court clerks who get pre-recruited to work at forms with cases pending before the courts.
Checks and Imbalances: How the Texas Supreme Court Raised $11 Million. (April 2000). The first in a series of three reports on the Texas Supreme Court, this study analyzes how each justices obtained the money used to win their most recent election.


ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence and Election Law. American Bar Association This is a web site that chronicles the ABA's effort to protect judicial independence, including judicial campaign conduct policy, an overview of the ethical programs that have arisen during judicial elections, the impact of advertising, and campaign conduct committees.
Brennan Center for Justice. NYU School of Law

The Brennan Center helps to educate the public about appropriate measures of judicial accountability and encourages judges to meet those standards.

Courts Initiative . Constitution Project Members of the Constitution Project's Courts Initiative have joined together to help ensure that state and federal courts remain independent institutions that dispense justice fairly. 
Justice at Stake. This nationwide, nonpartisan partnership of more than thirty judicial, legal and citizen organizations campaign for fair and impartial courts and include helpful links to what's happening in the state courts. 
The National Institute on Money in State Politics. This Web site tracks political contributions in all 50 states.  The data is easily searchable online.

Responding to Unwarranted Criticism

Speak to American Values: A Handbook for Winning the Debate for Fair and Impartial Courts. (2006). Washington DC: Justice at Stake This handbook aims at preparing those in the court community to effectively address judicial independence in a way that will resonate with the American public.
Danos, Colleen with revisions by Kenneth Pankey. Responding to Unwarranted Criticism of Judges. (March 2003). Knowledge and Information Services Memorandum.

This memorandum is a description of the problem of and possible constructive approaches to the unwarranted criticism of judges.

Judicial Immunity

Dugan, Hannah C. Judging the Judges: Wisconsin Judicial Commission 2005 Annual Report. (April 2006). Wisconsin Lawyer, 12 The Wisconsin Judicial Commission addresses judicial conduct that adversely affects public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice by applying the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Topics included in this article are information on the commission's membership, the types of cases before the commission, and its financial structure.
Report of the Supreme Court of Ohio Joint Task Force on Judicial Liability and Immunity. (November 2006). Joint Task Force on Judicial Liability and Immunity, Supreme Court of Ohio This report examines the current status of judicial immunity in Ohio, makes recommendations for modifications to existing judicial immunity and includes a chart comparing judicial liability programs among other states.
Olowofoyeku, Abimbola. Suing Judges: A Study of Judicial Immunity. (1993). Clarendon Press This book reviews the law relating to the protection of judicial officers in common-law legal systems, and presents a broad view of the ways in which the conceptual, academic and real problems produced by judicial immunities have been approached.  (K2146 .045 1993)
Stafford, Samuel P. An Overview of Judicial Immunity: Including Legal Representation of Judges. (1977). State Court Journal.

This classic article provides an objective examination of the doctrine of judicial immunity as it applies to all levels of state court judges and other court-related personnel. It also describes methods for providing legal representation to judges.