We all learned, or should have learned, in school how important the three branches of the federal government are.
Can you name them? They are the executive (the president), the legislative (Congress) and the judicial (federal courts). Parallel branches exist in state governments: governors, legislatures and state courts.
While government is obviously necessary in a civilized society, we have seen, especially in recent decades, the tendency of government to get bigger -- and not always for good reason.
But William T. "Bill" Robinson III, current president of the American Bar Association, noted on a visit Thursday to the Times Free Press and the downtown Rotary Club that 40 of the 50 states -- including Tennessee -- have reduced spending on their courts.
Undoubtedly they are trying to save money as government revenue has plunged during the economic crisis. And, of course, neither courts nor any other part of government can be exempted from the need to economize. But we share Robinson's concern that "justice delayed is justice denied," and it is important for courts to have the basic funding necessary to administer justice in a timely way that ensures the American people reasonable access to the judicial process. That should be true whether the person seeking justice is rich, middle class or poor.
Robinson noted that the courts are a constitutional part of our government designed to ensure equal justice, including protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.
Often we fail to appreciate the courts' crucial role, though. Robinson lamented that many of us know who is "judging" on "American Idol" but cannot name any of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The election or appointment of excellent, impartial judges to courts at all levels is plainly vital. But it is also important that those judges have the funding they need to carry out their duties.