Chief Justice of Indiana


The New Role of State Supreme Courts as Engines of Court Reform

Randall T. Shepard, Chief Justice of Indiana

Brennan Lecture

In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, the Honorable Randall T. Shepard examines the growing role of state supreme courts in remaking the American system of justice. The vast size of the state court system, the flexibility of state rulemaking authority, and recent changes in the way state courts are financed have placed these high courts at the forefront of efforts to administer and reform their states’ court systems. Chief Justice Shepard explores three major areas of court reform led by state supreme courts. First, state high courts have reformed the American jury by making it more inclusive and representative, and by improving its decisionmaking capabilities. Second, these courts have implemented new initiatives to ensure equal access to justice by providing legal assistance to low-income individuals in civil cases, creating pro bono programs, and assisting pro se litigants. Third, state supreme courts have fostered equal opportunity by addressing bias and disparate treatment within the court system, and by working to ensure that the legal profession itself is open to all people. Finally, Chief Justice Shepard describes a range of other ways in which state supreme courts have been remaking their states’ court systems, from creating specialized courts to training judges in the sciences. In a profession that is fond of tradition and slow to change, many of these reforms could only proceed with leadership from state high courts.