Budget Cuts Continue to Threaten State Judicial Systems Across the Nation

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels had grim news for state legislators at his annual State of the Judiciary speech last month: the state’s judicial system may no longer be able to provide New Mexicans with adequate access to their Constitutional rights due to a crippling financial crisis.

Chief Justice Daniels said that, because of budget cuts, New Mexico’s judicial system will not have the funds to pay for jury trials by March. In some areas of the state, the situation is so dire that several districts are already unable to prosecute crimes due to a lack of funding for public defenders.

“New Mexico’s justice system is on life support, and its organs are failing.”

But Chief Justice Daniels is not the only Chief Justice raising concerns about the impact of recent slashes to state judicial system budgets. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady voiced similar concerns in January when he delivered his own Condition of the Judiciary Address to Iowa’s state legislature. He told legislators that if Iowa’s judicial system does not receive the funding it requires there could be drastic consequences.

The lack of funding could force some Iowa county courthouses to switch to part-time hours, making it harder for juvenile court officers to spend time with at-risk youths and further compounding the backlog of cases already clogging judicial dockets.

The warnings voiced by Chief Justices Cady and Daniels serve as a stark reminder of the important role the judicial system plays in protecting citizens’ rights and the need for lawmakers to ensure the judiciary is provided with the means to protect those rights.

In a final plea for action, Chief Justice Daniels stated that “lawmakers must choose whether they will pay for projects that are desirable or politically popular, or whether they will fund programs that are necessary to comply with the basic charter of government.” While the legislature responded by passing a bill to provide $800,000 in emergency funds for the judiciary, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed the measure on February 2, 2017.

Mark Staines is a second-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and contributes to IAALS Online. Please direct inquiries about this post to iaals@du.edu.