Trends: Close Up

These special reports are part of the National Center for State Courts’ “Trends in the State Courts” series. The reports are mailed out quarterly and serve as informative and timely updates for state court leaders by NCSC staff. Any opinions expressed herein are those of the authors, not necessarily of the National Center for State Courts.

Grant Cycle

FREE MONEY? Not Quite. A Guide to Grants and the Courts

Every court has concerns about sustainability. We often focus on financial sustainment, but sustainability is a much broader concept. Sustainability involves not just sustained funding, but also how the court evolves and  changes to meet its community’s needs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are facing more challenges with increasing backlogs of cases, managing of human resources, and budget deficits that may have lingering effects for years.

Click here to view/download the print version.


Growing Demand for Civics Education (PDF)

Americans are voicing their concern over the state of civics proficiency among the citizenry, and
they should be, considering the startling numbers; Americans young and old are struggling with basic
civics knowledge.

Article with crossword puzzle answers (PDF)

Digital hands

Rethinking the Delivery of Justice in a Self-Service Society (PDF)

What does it mean to deliver justice in a world of growing virtual relationships defined by boundlessness?  How can the courts establish justice, protect core values, and remain relevant in an increasingly physically disconnected, but virtually interconnected world? The answer lies within four themes: the delivery of justice, self-service, society, and rethinking.

Crossword puzzle answers (PDF)

Digital hallway

On the Horizon: Emerging Issues that May Impact the Courts (PDF)

What will the courts look like in 2029 and beyond? What are the challenges they’ll face? More importantly, how will they deal with those challenges?

Piles of papers

Are You a Digital Hoarder?

We all know the TV reality shows about hoarders: garages filled to the top with yard-sale bargains; path through living rooms filled with years of magazines and newspapers; every available space used for storage, even the bed. While we may look in amazement at these scenes of chaos in other people’s lives, lurking in our own organizations, and even on our home computers, we may find our own hoards—digital hoards, that is.


Hidden Disabilities

Most courts understand that accommodations must be made for a litigant who is blind or deaf, or who has mobility issues or other more obvious types of disabilities. Confusion or misunderstandings may occur when the disability is not visible. Hidden disabilities most typically involve a person with  a mental or cognitive impairment (e.g., a combat veteran with PTSD using a service animal), but they could also be situations where a physical impairment could cause fatigue, language, or cognitive difficulties.


Judging Drugged Driving

Across the country, judges are hearing an increased number of drug-impaired driving cases. Recently, three judges associated with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) partnership with the ABA Judicial Division talked with NCSC about the latest issues in adjudicating impaired-driving cases involving substances other than alcohol.

Lady Justice

The Ethics of Search Engines and Judging

Suppose you are a judge preparing for a complex piece of commercial litigation. As a conscientious, hard-working jurist, you want to familiarize yourself with the commercial setting of the dispute, including information about the relevant industry and industry practices. Websites maintained by the parties to the dispute, and websites from trade groups and other sources, can provide significant background.


Courts and Disaster Recovery

During times of crisis and disaster, courts were often treated not as an independent branch but as a local or state agency. That mindset has, to a degree, changed in recent years, post 9/11 and most certainly post-Hurricane Katrina, as courts have confronted issues related to their own operations and the need to provide a forum and venue to address not only their daily activities but also the special conditions that arise amid disaster.

Graph on ipad

The Rise and Fall of State Court Caseloads

Since the Great Recession in 2008, caseloads in the state courts have been declining rapidly—16 percent between 2006 and 2015, a loss of about 16 million cases. Across all case categories—civil, criminal, juvenile, domestic relations, traffic—and across all states, this pattern is pervasive and persistent. While there is some variation due to demographics or policy and budget changes within states, the overall trend is clear. What is not known is why this is happening.

Lady Liberty

Women on the Bench

For the past ten years, the National Center for State Courts has tracked the number of female justices serving in the state courts of last resort. Our data track 53 courts because we include the D.C. Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The most noticeable trend in the past ten years has been the steady increase in the number of courts of last resort whose number of female justices equals or exceeds 50 percent of the court’s total membership.

Cat in lap

Animals in Court

There are a variety of different scenarios that can bring animals to the courthouse. They may be accompanying a witness, a litigant, an attorney in a court case, or someone entering the court to file paperwork.

Ballot box

Election 2016 and the Courts

With so much attention being paid to the 2016 presidential election, down-ballot items tend to be forgotten. However, ballot items in four states this November will have a direct impact on state courts. These proposals represent not just questions for voters in a particular year, but also broader discussions about how state courts operate, ranging from judicial age and capacity to the role of independently elected clerks of court.

Face scan

Policy Implications of Body Worn Cameras

Body Worn Cameras, or “BWCs,” are increasingly being deployed by law enforcement agencies.

Cell phone

Cellphones and Self-Represented Litigants

As our society becomes more dependent on mobile devices, the policy issues on allowing these devices into courtrooms become more complex.