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State vs. local funding of trial courts

August 18, 2021

While a great deal of focus has been placed on how much funding courts receive, another key aspect of budgeting is the level of government responsible for funding courts.  Over the last several hundred years many, but not all, states have shifted from a model in which local government funds local courts to either a mixed model or a state-funded one.

The history of United States state courts, like that of the English system upon which most states are based, is one of local justice administered, managed, and funded locally. In 1975 Carl Barr wrote Separate But Subservient: Court Budgeting in the American States where he noted it was not until the 1970s forward that states began to transition to complete or near-complete state funding. Why the shift? Carlson and his co-authors (2008) identified several reasons: the need for local fiscal relief, the inadequacy or unpredictability of local revenue, and a sense of unequal justice across the state.

Carlson et al. ultimately described a situation in which the shift to state funding provided three main benefits:

  • Adequate: trial courts must have "that level of funding which allows all cases to be heard and adjudicated in a just, legal, timely, and cost-effective manner."
  • Equitable: the "quality of justice a litigant receives in a case should not vary depending upon which court in the state hears the case."
  • Stable: courts need a "predictable" revenue stream in order to be able to plan and implement

Today, most states continue to rely on a mix of funding sources (state vs. local) for their trial courts. The data below comes from a Fall 2020 survey of State Court Administrators.

State/TerritoryHow are your trial courts funded?
Alabama General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Alaska General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Arizona General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Arkansas General Jurisdiction Courts: Evenly divided between state and local funding / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Evenly divided between state and local funding
California General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Colorado General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Connecticut General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Delaware General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
District of Columbia General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely federal funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Florida General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded
Georgia General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Guam General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Hawaii General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Illinois General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Indiana General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Iowa General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Kansas General Jurisdiction Courts: Evenly divided between state and local funding / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Kentucky General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Louisiana General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Maryland General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded
Massachusetts General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Michigan General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Minnesota General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Missouri General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Montana General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Nebraska General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Nevada General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
New Hampshire General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
New Jersey General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
New Mexico General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
New York General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
North Carolina General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
North Dakota General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Northern Mariana Islands General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Ohio General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Oklahoma General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Oregon General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Pennsylvania General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Puerto Rico General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Rhode Island General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
South Carolina General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
South Dakota General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Tennessee General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Texas General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
US Virgin Islands General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: N/A (my state does not have this type of court)
Utah General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
Virginia General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded
Washington General Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Mostly locally funded
West Virginia General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: No response
Wisconsin General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely locally funded
Wyoming General Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded / Limited Jurisdiction Courts: Entirely state funded

How are courts funded in your state, and what impact does that have on your judiciary? Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences!

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.