But the latest threat to the judiciary isn't in the form of sharp budget cuts, but an obscure legal case that reached the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday about whether a court reporting company can dish out $25 gas cards as incentives to its employees.
Legal experts say the court's decision on this technical matter can affect the state's delicate separation of powers for decades to come. It even compelled former Georgia Chief Justice Norman Fletcher to warn the state's top court not to underestimate the effect of the case.
Fletcher, in an amicus brief, said the case could have a "far-reaching, adverse effect on the independence of the judicial branch."
The threat comes from an unlikely source - court reporting company Brown & Gallo, which has long worked closely with Georgia's legal community. Company attorney Hank Fellows even felt compelled to tell the court the litigation "runs counter" to its mission in the community.
The company started a promotion in May 2008 that offered each of its court reporters the promotional gas card for each deposition they scheduled. But the state Board of Court Reporting filed a complaint saying the incentives violated the board's code of ethics.
Brown & Gallo then filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, saying it violated an administrative procedural rule designed for the executive branch. The Judicial Council of Georgia quickly asked the judge to dismiss the challenge on grounds that the law does not apply to the judiciary.
But to the surprise of many legal observers, the trial judge and the Georgia Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the lawsuit, setting off a legal firestorm.
"This isn't a minor matter," said Stefan Ritter, the state attorney arguing the case. "This has been a recurring issue and it's important for this court to address."
As the case wound its way up to the Georgia's top court, attorneys for the judicial branch and the court reporting firm began to worry it could set a precedent that neither wanted. So Fellows and Ritter asked the court to approve a joint motion that vacates the lower courts' decisions.
"It makes more sense to resolve this litigation if possible," Fellows said.
But it may be too late. Justice David Nahmias said as much Tuesday when he said vacating the rulings and approving the joint motion could run afoul of federal caselaw. So now both sides - along with Georgia's judicial leaders - will wait for the court's ruling.