Volume 80, Number 5

November 2005

Challenges Facing an Independent Judiciary

Ronald M. George, Chief Justice of California

Challenges to an independent judiciary are not unique to our time, but recent events have highlighted the difficulties facing a branch that can neither enforce its own decisions nor fund its own operations. In this installment of the annual William J. Brennan, Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, I recount my state’s pragmatic approach to securing the institutional independence of its judiciary. To shore up the independence of the Western world’s largest court system, California began by making sweeping structural changes. In this Lecture, I discuss three of these structural reforms in detail: shifting of funding responsibilities from the counties to the state, transfer of ownership of local courthouse facilities to the state, and consolidation of different trial court levels into a single, unified whole. These changes have drastically increased the institutional independence of California’s judiciary and helped to solidify its status as coequal to its sister branches. I further argue that these basic structural changes also bear the promise of greater decisionmaking independence for judges in the state of California.