Court-bashing is nothing new. As far back as the 1800s, New Hampshire’s legislature disbanded the state’s Supreme Court five times, said Bill Raftery, a senior analyst at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., who has tracked legislation affecting the judicial system for years.
But political attempts to reshape or constrain state courts have risen sharply in the last 10 years, Mr. Raftery said, propelled by polarization and a fading of the civics-book notion of governmental checks and balances. That became especially true, he said, during the Great Recession that began in 2007, when legislators slashed spending for state judicial systems in the name of balancing budgets — but also, sometimes, in the cause of punishing courts for rulings they disliked.
“It ultimately boils down to this,” he said. “The courts are not looked on by some legislators as being an independent branch of government. For some, they’re looked on as an agency that needs to be brought to heel.”
That said, impeachment — or at least, impeachment threats and attempts — have become a common tool to pressure courts in recent years, said Mr. Raftery of the National Center for State Courts.
During the 2011 to 2012 legislative session, he said, lawmakers filed 14 bills in seven states seeking to remove judges, including an effort by Republicans in the State House to remove the entire New Hampshire Superior Court over its handling of custody and domestic relations cases.