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Letters to the 107th Congress

February 12, 2002

Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
Chair, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are writing to urge your support for an appropriation of $13.55 million for the State Justice Institute (SJI) for FY 2003. As you know, the SJI is the only entity created by Congress to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, facilitate better coordination between state and federal courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common problems faced by all courts. The ABA vigorously supported its creation in 1984 and has remained its staunch supporter for the past 18 years.

When it became known that SJI funding had been slashed to $3 million for FY 2002 and that termination of federal funding in FY 2003 had been recommended, several different ABA entities immediately urged Association leadership to advocate vigorously for preservation of federal funding for SJI. To demonstrate its continued commitment to SJI, the Association quickly adopted additional policy this month, supporting the State Justice Institute's request for an appropriation of $13.55 million for FY 2003 and urging Congress to fund the operations of the SJI at a reasonable and adequate level, which we consider to be not less than this requested amount.

State courts hear over 97.5% of our nation's cases -- a staggering 91,494,114 cases in 1999. Federal funding for SJI is appropriate because by strengthening our state court system, SJI grants strengthen our entire justice system. As the 1984 Senate report accompanying S. 384, the legislation creating SJI, so eloquently stated: "the quality of justice in the United States is largely determined by the quality of justice in our state courts.What happens in our state courts not only affects our citizens' concepts of justice and confidence in our federal system, it also affects the operations of the federal courts and the preservation of balance between the state and federal judicial systems."

Federal funding for SJI is appropriate for other reasons, too. It has served, and continues to serve, a vital federal purpose by providing state courts with the technology, methodology and assistance to carry out Congressional mandates involving diverse issues, including family violence, child support enforcement, the war on drugs, management of mass tort cases and federal-state coordination of judicial resources.

Finally, federal funding for the State Justice Institute has enabled our government to economically and efficiently use limited federal funds to help all of our courts address the most pressing and perplexing problems affecting our justice system. While Congress from time-to-time earmarks certain grants for specific state court improvement projects, the State Justice Institute has helped prioritize spending, provided oversight and coordination, and prevented duplication by sharing the success of one state's innovations with every state court system as well as the federal courts. It has accomplished this in a variety of ways, including maintaining information clearinghouses to assure that effective new judicial approaches in one state are shared with other courts nationwide; establishing national resource centers where judges and court staff may obtain expert guidance; and convening national educational programs to speed the transfer of solutions to problems confronting courts across the country.

SJI believes that the same level of funding it received seven years ago is the minimum amount needed to enable it to fund a full range of projects that will help state courts meet new burdens and respond to the daunting challenges that lie ahead. We concur and therefore urge you to vigorously support the Institute's FY 2003 request for an appropriation of $13.55 million. We stand ready to help you in whatever way we can.

Sincerely,

Robert E. Hirshon
President, American Bar Association

Cc: Members of Subcommittee

107th Congress Letters Home

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