Combatting disinformation campaigns against the courts


fake news

Combatting disinformation campaigns against the courts


@Blacktivists – Maybe the criminal justice system from start to finish is seriously racist? The government is blind and deaf.

@BleepThePolice - The American (in)justice system does not need a few tweaks, but it needs to be completely overhauled.

These tweets, which portray the American judicial system as broken and dysfunctional, came not from U.S. citizens exercising their free speech rights, but from the Internet Research Agency, an organization with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence that uses fake social network accounts to spread disinformation. Russia isn’t the only nation doing this, but its disinformation campaigns are the most sophisticated and prolific.

NCSC is taking a lead role in efforts to combat court-related disinformation campaigns, which NCSC President Mary McQueen has called “the biggest attacks that we’ve seen on the judicial system.” This year, NCSC has held seven workshops, including two this month, to train court professionals to recognize disinformation campaigns and counteract them. The virtual workshops have been supported by the State Justice Institute.

“Disinformation campaigns directed toward the judiciary cause a crisis of confidence that trickles down to the smallest court in the smallest state,” said Janet Bancroft, public information officer for Nebraska’s Administrative Office of the Courts. “These campaigns harm all of us.”

Bancroft said a key takeaway from the NCSC workshop she attended was the importance of creating a response plan and committing to it in writing rather than working from crisis to crisis.

Cynthia Clanton, director of the Judicial Council of Georgia, described the workshop she attended as “another good wakeup call to remain vigilant and have a plan to combat disinformation about the courts, judges, and the judicial processes. In Georgia, we have ongoing planning that factors in important information we learned through the NCSC disinformation webinar so we can educate, clarify, and calm those in our state should a disinformation attack occur.”

NCSC, which has also conducted focus groups and conducted polling to determine how best to combat disinformation, is not alone in its efforts to combat these campaigns. Last year, the Arizona Supreme Court established a task Force on countering disinformation, the first statewide effort to examine the problem. The task force recently completed its report, which includes a series of recommendations. Read about them in this NCSC Trending Topics story.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank, has made monitoring disinformation campaigns a focus of its work. In a 2019 white paper called Beyond the Ballot: How the Kremlin Works to Undermine the U.S. Justice System, the authors stress the seriousness of the problem:

“The United States’ justice system is under attack as part of a long-term Russian effort to undermine the appeal of democracy and weaken the West. Like elections, the justice system depends on public trust in the legitimacy of its processes and outcomes. And like elections, there is documented evidence that justice systems are consequential targets in our adversaries’ attempts to undermine democracy.”

Texas Chief Justice receives national award for judicial innovation


For his remarkable leadership and innovation at the onset and throughout the pandemic, Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht is the 2020 recipient of NCSC’s Harry L. Carrico Award for Judicial Innovation, one of the highest awards presented by NCSC. The award honors a sitting state court chief justice or justice who has inspired, sponsored, promoted, or led an innovation of national significance in the field of judicial administration.

In March, as the pandemic started to sweep across the country, Chief Justice Hecht established the National Pandemic Rapid Response Team -- made up of state court chief justices and state court administrators – to develop practices and resources to help courts remain open, accessible, and safe.

“Chief Justice Hecht’s innovative approach and quick response helped courts across the country continue to provide access while keeping court personnel and the public safe,” said NCSC President Mary C. McQueen. “He is a premier leader in advancing improvements in court administration, which has gained him the respect and admiration of colleagues and those who serve in judiciaries of our nation.”