Courting Ignorance: Why We Know so Little About Our Most Important Courts
143 Daedalus 129 (2014)
13 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2013 Last revised: 23 Oct 2014
Date Written: August 6, 2013
Moving into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the United States finds itself in paradox. To an extent not always recognized we depend on state trial courts to run the world’s largest economy and coordinate mechanisms of social control. But even as we drown in data about everything else under the sun, we know remarkably little about how those courts work. Although we’re struggling our way to some information about the current situation, we know almost nothing about the workings of our most pervasive judicial system for any period before the 1980s. This essay seeks to explain how little we know and why we know so little. Beyond that it traces the roots of our ignorance to choices about fundamental political structure that date to the founding of the Republic. These choices did not make our ignorance inevitable, but they made it likely, and they make overcoming it difficult, however desirable it may be.
Keywords: Judicial systems, the the National Center for State Courts, state court data
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