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Budget cuts somewhere endanger access to justice everywhere

“Budget cuts have left citizens without adequate access to the Iowa Courts,” concludes Chief Justice Marsha Ternus in her recent address on the state of the judiciary in Iowa.  This news, like the news in many other states, is not surprising  given the current economic conditions.  Similar cuts to state court budgets are taking place throughout the country, with new reports coming out of Georgia and West Virginia in the last few weeks alone.

These cuts are deepening America’s justice gap, often under the public’s radar.  Not only are the courts often politically weaker than their legislative and executive counterparts and are less able to fend off these cuts, but citizens rarely appreciate the importance of the justice system to their everyday lives; that is, until they are forced
to turn to the courts for help.  People believe (rightly, in some ways, but wrongly, in many others) that there is too much litigation going on anyway, so cuts to court budgets are accepted, or largely ignored.  The current economic climate requires particular urgency to fix the unequal access to justice that exists in America today, and
its particularly important to educate the public about the effect these cuts are having.

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Equal justice under the law is one of America’s most proudly proclaimed legal principles, but it comes nowhere close to describing the justice system in practice.