University of Denver

Recapturing Confidence in the Judiciary

IAALS Intern

Do you trust the judiciary? If you thought “yes,” then you may be in a shrinking crowd. Judge Kevin S. Burke, Hennepin County district judge and IAALS board member, begins a recent article with candor –

Public trust in the courts has dropped to an all-time low. Unfortunately, some judges are contributing to this loss of trust. And as the saying goes, the self-inflicted wounds hurt the most.

Public trust is waning across all the branches, and the judiciary is no exception. The country’s highest court may be the most visible to come under scrutiny, and often at the hands of its own justices who many believe let their own views influence their reasoning and decisions. The Court is often its own harshest critic, with justices frequently attacking their peers from the bench, and perhaps more influentially, in the court of public opinion.

An effective judiciary requires respect for a diverse range of opinions. If it can foster that sort of culture, the judiciary can be a model for the other branches to instill public confidence. Every encounter with the judiciary is an opportunity to influence the public, for better or worse. “Every judge has the potential to wreak havoc on the public’s trust in the judiciary.” From the U.S. Supreme Court to state county courts, instilling public confidence and building trust needs to be of utmost importance. Judge Burke noted:

Our explanations need to be clear, understandable and judicial in tone and temper, avoiding intemperate shades of self-interest.[…] the commitment to readable and interesting explanations lies with every judge.