Reform of the Courts

June 3, 1970

Report Outline
Problems of Judiciary in Mass Society
Development of Judicial Reform Efforts
Proposals for Change in Court System
Special Focus

Problems of Judiciary in Mass Society

Discontent Over Breakdowns in Judicial System

The nation's courts are often cited as the prime example of what is seen as a spreading breakdown of American life. Along with jammed telephone lines and clogged highways, courtroom delays are taken as evidence that many institutions are failing to keep abreast of the growing demands that changing times have thrust upon them. It is widely argued that the courts were designed for a stable, rural society and have not adapted to today's mobile, urban society. They appear unable to cope with the ever-mounting load of litigation that accompanies the increase in crime, the growing number of automobile accidents, the rising divorce rate and other aspects of the population expansion. Many thoughtful observers believe it is too late merely to patch up the court system. In their view, nothing less than fundamental reform will provide an acceptable remedy.

This concern is not new but it is becoming more intense. As Chief Justice of the United States, Earl Warren told the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in 1958 that “interminable and unjustifiable delays in our courts are day compromising the basic legal rights of countless thousands of Americans and, imperceptibly, corroding the very foundations of government in the United States.” Nine years later, in 1967 Warren told the American Law Institute that, “unless something new and effective is done promptly in the area of judicial research, coordination and management, the rule of law in this nation cannot endure,” In 1969, John P, Frank, a prominent lawyer and noted critic of American courts, wrote that civil justice “has broken down; the legal system fails to perform the tasks that may be expected of it…the collapse is now.” As fur criminal justice, the President's Crime Commission said it “is overcrowded and overworked, undermanned, underfinanced, and very often misunderstood.”

Warren's successor, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, has explored the Idea of going before Congress with a state-of-the-judiciary message outlining the need for reform. Burger is intensely interested in overhauling the court system, particularly in eliminating procedural snarls and administrative problems which paralyze the legal process. Delay may he the most serious defect found in the court system but it is not the only one. Criticism is directed at the manner of selecting judges, the political indebtedness of many appointees, poor qualifications of some judges, corruption among some court officials, the low quality of justice available in traffic court “mills,” the widespread use of perjury in divorce litigation, and “plea bargaining” in criminal cases. Sentences meted out for similar offenses vary from state to state, from county to county and even from court to court within a single district. All these weaknesses lower the image of the courts in the public mind.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Challenges of the Courts
Nov. 04, 2022  Conservatorships
Jan. 14, 2011  Cameras in the Courtroom
Oct. 22, 1993  Science in the Courtroom
May 27, 1988  Protecting Rights in State Courts
Oct. 07, 1983  Court Backlog
Jan. 16, 1981  Television in the Courtroom
Jun. 03, 1970  Reform of the Courts
Nov. 16, 1960  Congestion in the Courts
Mar. 07, 1956  Cameras in Court
Jul. 18, 1939  Reform of Lower Federal Courts
Feb. 04, 1936  Restriction of Powers of Federal Courts
Apr. 14, 1931  Reform of Magistrates' Courts
Judicial Appointments