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date: 14 October 2019

Judicial Independence as the Outcome of a Political System

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

A broad international consensus supports the view that ensuring judicial independence is a normatively appealing goal, either because independence is itself a virtue or because it is believed to set the conditions for many other normatively appealing goals. Academic research on the subject raises questions about what independence is and whether it is a useful concept at all. Scholars question whether independence can be designed, and if so, under what conditions. Assuming that judicial independence can be generated, scholars also question whether it will produce the ends we desire. This diversity of opinion is driven by the fact that judicial independence is a product of potentially complicated political processes. Scholars disagree about how these processes work. Particular theoretical models of the political systems in which judges are embedded have clear implications for all aspects of the research process, from conceptual development to causal inference. Absent theoretical consensus on the way that politics works in particular places, we cannot expect consensus over the nature, construction, and effects of judicial independence. The implication of this view is that reform efforts must be guided as much by the theoretical and normative orientations of designers. What scholars can do is help designers make their theoretical and normative commitments transparent.