The Field of State Civil Courts

18 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2022 Last revised: 9 Nov 2022

See all articles by Anna E. Carpenter

Anna E. Carpenter

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

Alyx Mark

Wesleyan University Dept. of Government; American Bar Foundation

Colleen F. Shanahan

Columbia University - Law School

Jessica Steinberg

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: August 19, 2022


This symposium Issue of the Columbia Law Review marks a moment of convergence and opportunity for an emerging field of legal scholarship focused on America’s state civil trial courts. Historically, legal scholarship has treated state civil courts as, at best, a mere footnote in conversations about civil law and procedure, federalism, and judicial behavior. But the status quo is shifting. As this Issue demonstrates, legal scholars are examining our most common civil courts as sites for understanding law, legal institutions, and how people experience civil justice. This engagement is essential for inquiries into how courts shape and respond to social needs and structural inequality and what all of this means for the present and future of American democracy.

Two key motivations drive scholarly interest in state civil courts. One motivation is generating knowledge. Historically, legal scholarship has largely ignored the most common and ordinary aspects of American civil justice in favor of studying the uncommon and the extraordinary. Thus, many of our core premises and assumptions—in civil procedure, administrative law, contracts, torts, and even constitutional law—are based on an understanding of only a sliver of formal civil justice activity. By case count, that slice is roughly two percent, the percentage of civil cases handled by federal courts each year, creating a glaring existential problem for legal scholarship. We need to know about the institutions that handle the other ninety-eight percent of civil matters to answer the most basic questions about civil law and the civil justice system, to say nothing of exploring broader social, economic, and political questions that intersect with civil courts’ work.

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Anna E. and Mark, Alyx and Shanahan, Colleen F. and Steinberg, Jessica, The Field of State Civil Courts (August 19, 2022). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 122, No. 5, 2022, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 517, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2022-64, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2022-64, Available at SSRN:

Anna E. Carpenter

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
84112 (Fax)

Alyx Mark

Wesleyan University Dept. of Government ( email )

United States

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Colleen F. Shanahan (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Jessica Steinberg

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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