Vanderbilt Law Review

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On March 31, 2017, the Vanderbilt Law Review, in conjunction with the American Constitution Society, hosted a Symposium at Vanderbilt Law School entitled The Least Understood Branch: The Demands and Challenges of the State Judiciary. This Symposium began five months earlier at Emory University School of Law, where the Symposium's contributors gathered to discuss the importance and difficulties of studying state courts. This theme is reflected in the articles published in this Symposium issue. The importance of state courts to the American system of justice can hardly be overstated. As Professors Tracey George and Albert Yoon recognize, "The work of courts in America is the work of state courts."' Still, given federal court dominance in both legal scholarship and law school curricula, it seems appropriate to preface this Symposium on state courts with a reminder of their critical role in the American system of justice. By almost any measure, state courts wield greater influence over the way Americans interact with the judicial system than do federal courts. Consider the raw number of cases filed in state and federal courts annually. In 2015, 86.2 million cases were filed in state courts. 2 Compare this to the 361,689 cases filed in federal court that same year.3 State courts heard over 54 times more civil cases than federal courts 4 and over 226 times more criminal cases.5 Consider also the number of state and federal judgeships: there are approximately 30,000 state judges in America, compared to only 1,700 federal judges.6 When individuals interact with the judicial system, it is overwhelmingly through state courts.