By Rachel Totten Keith
According to our text, legal mobilization “refers to the process by which a legal system acquires its cases” (195). The two main sources are criminal charges brought by arrest and civil law suits filed by a government agency, private company, or a citizen. Civil law suits are not restricted to the court rooms when settling a dispute. Peacemakers, mediators, and arbitrators all resolve disputes and the results can be legally enforced by the courts. These third-parties help alleviate the rising number of cases seen by the judiciary. Changes in court procedure and the creation of new types of courts also aim to streamline litigation to lighten the court caseload. Types of litigants, the level of intercession required of judges and courts, and the complexity of lawsuits settling policy issues help to understand the expanding need for legal services and why our courts’ case loads are surging.
Case Disposition Dynamics
Party capability, lawsuits that determine policy, and the adjudicatory process itself are all factors in the increasing scope of our courts and judiciary caseload. Party capability is determined by how often a litigant engages the legal system. Frequent users of the court have experience invoking “public authority for their private benefit” (196), usually have money, and are more likely to turn to the courts to resolve disputes. They are also more likely to win. Infrequent users of the courts usually are defendants for criminal activity or are seeking dissolution of a marriage. A party’s capabilities are determining factors in case outcome (200).
Cases also differ in the type of action/level of involvement that is required of the judiciary and the type of lawsuits. Some cases require only routine administration such as when an adoption requires a judge’s signature. Procedural adjudication are cases that involve actual disputes and require the full spectrum of the system: judges, attorneys, evidence, tedious examination of the laws, all with the intent of going to trial, if necessary. Decisional adjudication are simple cases that require merely a judge’s decision such as in small claims and traffic courts. Cases of diagnostic adjudication are the fastest growing and are the most problematic and time consuming because there is often little precedent and each case must be scrutinized and work towards “devising the proper treatment to eliminate. . . or at least mitigate” a problem, such as in juvenile court cases, contested divorce cases with child custody issues, and other such cases that involve not only the litigants but also experts such a social workers and psychiatrists (201). Lawsuits that require the judiciary to rule on policies of the government or private institutions, or policy litigation, are also time-consuming and tedious with far-reaching consequences for not only the litigants, but the public as a whole. An example of this would be the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry.
Interest groups are now an important player in our legal system as they seek cases for policy litigation to provide legal precedent for laws that serve their interests rather than relying solely on the democratic process of elections and legislation. According to text, Lee Epstein states interest groups are “politically disadvantaged in traditional forums” (205) and prefer to use lawsuits rather than legislation and lobbying. Even political parties use the courts as another tool in their policy strategies (205). Because using policy litigation as a strategy is expensive and time-consuming, interest groups require money, support from other organizations including government, longevity to bring several cases and establish precedent, expert legal staff, and lastly, extralegal publicity to gain support within the legal community. Multiple strategies are used such as direct sponsorship of cases, amicus curiae briefs, class action law suits, and judicial nominations by spending money to influence voters.
Media and the Legal System
Historically, the public has always relied on journalists and media coverage of cases and court decisions through newspapers and other forms of print. As technology progressed, especially with the invention of television, the courts had to debate and determine the level of access the media has in the court room. Now the internet and social media ubiquity has changed the game again. Cell phone cameras and social media accounts are used for video and email evidence, attorney advertising, solicitation of campaign funds, and even the use of internet by jurors has resulted in mistrials. The legal system is significantly impacted by media as the judicial process adapts with each new technology.
Neubauer, David W., and Stephen S. Meinhold. Judicial Process: Law, Courts, and Politics in the United States. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.