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Message from the Director

Although judges have a broad range of judicial philosophies, the judiciary at its core is a conservative institution. Its essential mission—to uphold the rule of law and protect fundamental rights—requires stability and predictability. Its legitimacy depends upon independence, impartiality, and accountability. At the same time, every institution, including the judiciary, needs to adjust and grow with the times. Change is inevitable, and stability cannot become stagnation.

The Federal Judicial Center has a special place within the judicial branch. Our statutory mission is “to further the development and adoption of improved judicial administration in the courts of the United States.” We explicitly are charged with fostering managed change, by helping the courts and the people who work in them not only to perform effectively but also to discover and implement new ways to serve the public. While we do not formulate, dictate, or enforce policy, we do seek to provide ideas and information that aid the development of thoughtful practices and policy decisions. Our research, education, judicial history, and international judicial relations programs all strive to emulate and reinforce the judiciary’s fundamental values.

Like the judiciary itself, the Center must adapt and grow even as it adheres to its own core principles of independence, rigor, and objectivity. Changes in technology, science, the economy, demographics, and other aspects of our society affect both what we study and how we do our work. For example, the digital revolution has greatly impacted the discovery process in litigation, resulting in significant amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in December 2015. In 2016, the Center undertook research and developed educational programs and resources to address these reforms and the cultural changes necessary to implement them. These efforts were part of a much larger ongoing project of developing comprehensive curricula, based on established principles of adult learning, for all groups within the judiciary. 

To maintain high standards while at the same time being flexible, creative, and open to new ideas is a challenging task. Diminished resources make this even more difficult: since I became director five years ago, both our staff and our inflation-adjusted appropriation have decreased in size. Yet we have grown significantly as an organization because of the outstanding capabilities of the people who work here. We haven’t filled every vacancy, but we have been fortunate to hire thirty new colleagues who have brought a rich diversity of skills, experiences, and ideas. They joined what already was a highly talented and dedicated group, many of whom have been here for decades. Together we learn from one another and push each other to be better, to provide the highest quality support to the courts we are privileged to serve. More than any single program, project, or publication, I am most proud of these people and their capacity to grow and to meet the most pressing needs of the courts.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the guidance and support of our Board and our advisory committees, and the cooperation of our colleagues in the Administrative Office, the Sentencing Commission, and the courts themselves. For all of that, I am most grateful.