Court funding necessary to protect freedom


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Imagine that a business has three equal partners: one partner (the legislature) raises money, one partner (the governor) conducts business, and the third equal partner (the court system) makes sure that the other partners act legally and follow the business plan (the Constitution). When one partner acts illegally, or does not follow the business plan, the third partner — the court system— has the power to overrule that illegally acting partner.

What happens to this balance of power among the equal partners if the legislature and governor decide that they are not going to fund the court system? In other words: What happens if two partners decide to reduce the power of the third partner?

The first issue is: Would it be legal (or Constitutional) for one equal partner, or branch of government, to put itself above another branch of government by cutting spending to that branch?

The U.S. Constitution and state constitutions created “checks and balances” and an equal partnership of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, so that one branch could not become too powerful and take control of the government. If one branch reduced the power of the court system by underfunding the court system, that would destroy the checks and balances — it would prevent the courts from fulfilling their watchdog role, and it would be unconstitutional because it would reduce the power of an equal partner.

The second issue is: If the court system is underfunded, who will protect our freedoms and rights from the government, other citizens, and corporations? Many state governments are facing severe economic problems and some people say that we should cut spending to the court system in order to save money. This argument has some followers; some feel that we can cut court funding because the court system deals with criminals and they are not criminals — or that the court system deals with lawsuits and they will never be in a lawsuit. It is true that most people are never charged with a crime and most people are never in a lawsuit. But if we do not have a vibrant court system, who will help you if you are falsely accused of a crime, who will help you if you have to seek justice against a powerful corporation, and who will be on your jury if you need help?

The court system serves as a limit on the government so that the government cannot eliminate our freedoms and rights. The court system also prevents citizens and corporations from trampling on the rights of other citizens. Last, the court system solves disputes when other methods fail. Without an adequately funded court system, the government, corporations, and other citizens could take our property or injure us without our ability to fight that injustice. The court system is the guardian of our rights — if it is underfunded, it cannot protect our rights.

There is an expression: “Freedom isn’t free.” The freedoms that we enjoy in this country were paid for by the blood of our forefathers. If a person wants to have those same freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to a jury trial, among others — then that person must be willing to pay for the court system that ensures those freedoms and rights.

We all need an independent court system that can correct any mistakes made by the government hold people and corporations accountable for their actions.

JD Haas is a personal-injury attorney in Bloomington, Minn. This is the second of two pieces he has written on the role of the judiciary.

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