May 10, 2023
By Alyssa Nekritz
As of May 1, twenty-one chief justices delivered their state of judiciary speeches to their respective legislatures this year. These speeches generally describe the previous year’s accomplishments and outline several goals for the judiciary. Multiple speeches mentioned two glaring problems : judicial staff salaries and court security-related concerns. Chief justices are increasingly noting issues surrounding judicial pay, competitiveness, and safety concerns for court judges.
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Fourteen chief justices asked their legislatures to consider increasing pay offered to judges, judicial staff, or personnel-related resources. Chief Justice Marla Luckert of Kansas and Chief Justice Paul Wilson of Missouri thanked their legislatures for the fiscal year’s budget increase and asked for more funding to stay competitive. High turnover rates and low application numbers are worrisome across states. Judicial staffing is required to prevent backlog and provide equal access to the justice system. State of judiciary speeches in Hawaii, New York, and North Dakota also mention increased pay requirements. NSCS’s Judicial Salaries Survey highlights the salary differences across states. Those salary statistics were cited in Luckert’s speech.
Recent spikes in violent threats against judges and several instances of physical attacks have brought judicial security to the forefront of discussion. Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill of Maine and Michael Boggs of Georgia both called on the legislature for increased court security for judges and the buildings in general. Chief Justice Richard Bevan of Idaho commented on the tumultuous political landscape and how that directly influences a judge’s ability to make difficult decisions. Unfavorable decisions can motivate individuals, threatening judges and their families. South Dakota’s state of the judiciary speech by Chief Justice Steven Jensen mentioned several court security-based grants available to make improvements. Addresses from Texas and Wyoming echo similar concerns about court security.
These speeches are available via transcript and video typically on court websites and linked throughout this article. Backlogs, which were a main topic of conversation last year, have dwindled in response to the full reopening of the courts. Some states, like Alaska, Georgia, and Nebraska are still mentioning backlogs, but most have demonstrated resilience and have worked to resolve case buildup. Speeches given in Colorado,Indiana,Guam, and Iowa reiterate the aforementioned court themes.
NCSC’s March 22 @ the Center newsletter summarized this year’s diversity and access to justice goals in the speeches. Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington, and eight others highlighted specific diversity, equity, and inclusion-related goals in place for the coming year. Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero of California made diversity her focal point in the speech. Other recurring themes were also mentioned among state of judiciary addresses, such as making improvements to technology. NCSC’s recent Trending Topics article describes some recent expansions in tech.
Is your chief justice looking to improve court security? Share your information or ask questions via Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.