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Part VI Institutions, Ch.39 Judicial Independence as a Constitutional Virtue

Roderick A. Macdonald, Hoi Kong

From: The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law

Edited By: Michel Rosenfeld, András Sajó

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023

(p. 831) Chapter 39  Judicial Independence as a Constitutional Virtue*

I.  Introduction

Contemporary constitutional theory gives pride of place to a small number of concepts, three of which—separation of powers, the rule of law, judicial independence—directly implicate the role of the judiciary in a state’s governance regime. The precise meaning of these three concepts (p. 832) and the manner of their instantiation varies widely among the 192 states that are members of the United Nations. Our first goal, consequently, is to situate the present chapter by clarifying the inquiries that it will address.

The nouns and adjectives of the title serve as organizing themes for framing our portrait. The topic is judicial independence but the word judicial is not free from ambiguity. The standard case is easy: a judge is a third party decision-maker occupying an institutional office deciding disputes between parties in an adjudicative proceeding. Yet each of these qualifiers is of uncertain dimension. Analysis could focus on the institution, on the decision-maker, on the substance of the matter being decided, or on the specific function or tasks being performed.

In many states there is a plethora of institutions performing court-like functions. These include state-created bodies such as administrative tribunals, central agencies of government such as inspectorates and licensing bodies, and even low-level decision-makers such as justices of the peace, and small claims court referees. In addition, in fields like labor law, commercial law, private law, and international law there are a wide variety of consensual arbitrators performing state-recognized judicial functions. To these must also be added international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Alternatively, were we to focus on the decision-maker, regardless of the institution, we would examine the entire range of activities performed by anyone called a judge, regardless of the institutional setting in which the tasks were performed. For example, in some states in the parliamentary tradition judges are routinely called upon to lead commissions of inquiry or even to oversee the distribution of benefits under ad hoc compensation programs.

In some states, the key criterion for defining the judicial power relates to the substance of the decision being taken. The jurisdiction of courts is held to involve hearing and deciding cases and controversies. Advisory opinions, political decisions, and hypothetical reference cases are not governance functions of a judicial character, even though in many states they may be part of a judge’s normal activity.1

Finally, the judicial function is delimited in some states by the character of the tasks performed. A judicial function involves adjudication—the determination of the rights and obligations of the parties to a dispute by the rendering of a decision following the presentation of proofs of facts and arguments of law. Even when performed by a judge, and even when performed in a courtroom setting, allocative decisions such as the awarding of a license among numerous applicants, legislative acts such as the promulgation of rules of practice, mediation of family disputes, or purely managerial decisions such as the design and ongoing administration of school districts are not properly considered as judicial decisions.

The notion of judicial independence is equally polysemic. The root idea is that the judicial function requires judges to decide matters brought before them strictly on the basis of the record as presented by parties to a dispute. They are to decide uninfluenced by considerations particular to the parties but not relevant to the case, and to do so free from considerations relating to their own self-interest or the interest of the person or body that named them to their office. One might summarize the point by affirming that judges are independent when they decide by taking into account all relevant considerations, by not considering irrelevant considerations, by not acting to achieve an improper purpose, and by not acting to achieve a purely personal objective.

(p. 833) Independence can be understood ex ante as a description of the structural, procedural, and personnel decisions that conduce to uncorrupted decision-making. A primary inquiry is, therefore, to answer the question, ‘Independence from whom or from what’? Invariably the initial response is ‘the state’, and the goal is to shield judges from reward or retaliation for judgments they render. But there are other private actors who may equally corrupt the process through money, threats, blackmail, or the promise of favor. Even other judges acting in disciplinary matters through Judicial Councils, or a Chief Justice allocating workloads, can act in ways that compromise the independence of individual decision-makers. Considerations such as selection processes, guaranteed tenure, protected salaries and benefits, and independent collegial governance loom large when independence is presented in this light.2

The above considerations also point to the need to distinguish between independence and impartiality, for even where an institutional structure may promote independence in general, particular judges in particular cases may, for a variety of reasons, not be impartial. In such cases one must also account for whether judges do in fact respond to guarantees of independence by rendering impartial justice.

There are three distinct ways in which the idea of constitutional independence can be understood. The focus may be on the judge, the function, or a particular office. Most obviously, constitutional independence may refer to explicit provisions of a constitutional document (although in some countries with partially unwritten constitutions, there may also be common law constitutional norms)3 by which the status of all judges is meant to be protected from political and other interference, whether from one or both parties, from powerful third party economic interests, or from criminal threats, blackmail, or extortion.

A second sense of the idea lies in the protection of the judicial function. Some constitutions explicitly define or implicitly point to tasks deemed by their nature to be judicial. Performance of these tasks cannot be assigned by the legislature to any body that is not a court (eg an administrative agency), or to any person (eg a public servant or a minister) who is not appointed according to the procedures applicable to judges and vested with a guarantee of independence.4

In most states that are committed to judicial independence, the institutional and procedural guarantees extend to all judges within the judicial hierarchy. In some countries, however, the idea of constitutional independence has a more limited sense. It means that there is a separate body—a constitutional court—that has exclusive jurisdiction, whether ex ante or ex post, to decide constitutional questions.5 This body is independent not only of the political branches of government, but also is separate from the regular judicial branch. In some states, independent constitutional courts are not even adjudicative bodies in the conventional sense, but are rather specialized multi-member bodies with a protected jurisdiction and enhanced guarantees of independence for their members.

The last term of the title, virtue, points to a number of considerations relating to the actual performance of the role of judge. A first of these relates to judicial ideology. If a judge is working within a system that involves a professional magistracy, the manner in which virtue is manifest will be different from that in a system where judges are recruited from the legal profession either through appointment or election. Moreover, the explicit recognition or denial of a (p. 834) judge’s personal responsibility in decision-making will shape the manner in which independent judging is assessed in a given system.

Secondly, judicial virtue cannot mean judicial license. Judges must be accountable, and the central question is what type of accountability (and to whom) independence is meant to foster. Here again there are different dimensions in play. Independence is compromised when accountability is to a political process rather than to the disinterested pursuit of the rule of law. The idea of integrity is most often deployed to capture a judge’s commitment to craft: respect for precedent, fidelity to established principles of statutory interpretation, and strict adherence to the norm of impartiality.6

Integrity also signals a third aspect of judicial virtue—phroenesis: sobriety, wisdom, courage, modesty, and the capacity to resist the siren song of notoriety for righting all wrongs regardless of one’s formal jurisdiction to do so.

In measuring the degree of judicial independence in any state, the importance of attending to judicial virtue cannot be understated. The whole panoply of formal constitutional guarantees will not lead to the outcomes that judicial independence is meant to ensure if those named to courts are comfortable soliciting and acting upon illegitimate factors when deciding cases. Conversely, the absence of all structural and procedural mechanisms to insulate judges from inappropriate pressure will not prevent courageous and virtuous judges from displaying true independence and impartiality in maintaining the rule of law.7

The above considerations illustrate only some of the difficulties of definition and scope in developing a concept of judicial independence that could be used to organize a worldwide evaluative survey. The potential complexity of such an inquiry may suggest that a comparative approach to judicial independence is best undertaken by setting out an exhaustive list of institutional structures, procedural mechanisms, and constitutional guarantees that are related to judicial independence (conceived in the broadest possible sense), and then examining the extent to which these features are present in any given jurisdiction.8 So, for example, a comparative table may list the following factors: (1) sources of threats to independence (external; internal); (2) targets of these threats (the judiciary as an institution; individual judges); (3) nature of the threats (structural threats; conditions of office-holding such as appointment, tenure, removal, promotion, remuneration, training, and discipline; court administration; direct attacks and exposure to reprisals); and (4) political culture (independent bar; free press; NGOs supportive of the judiciary; free elections to political office with a strong opposition).9 In pursuing such a descriptive taxonomic undertaking, one might, for instance, also provide a catalog of judicial pronouncements about what concepts such as budgetary independence or judicial self-governance require.10

(p. 835) We reject formalistic checklist approaches to a comparative survey of judicial independence and instead ground our inquiry in three interrelated claims: that judicial independence is a particular kind of normative concept that is best understood through a particular normative theory; that this concept is made effective through institutional design choices; and that the socio-political features of specific contexts will dictate which design choices are normatively appropriate or politically possible.

In Section II, we elaborate upon the first of these claims. We argue that judicial independence is both an essentially contested concept and a solution concept. The fact that judicial independence is an essentially contested concept means that the nature and scope of the concept’s characteristics are persistently open to question. The fact that the idea of judicial independence is a solution concept means that it poses a specific set of normative questions which all reasonable participants in the debate about the concept’s content attempt to answer. We conclude Section II with the claim that the concept of judicial independence is best captured by a virtue ethics account and that such an account is superior to the main consequentialist alternatives.

In Section III we develop the second and third of our central claims. We present frameworks for analyzing the design choices that polities make when implementing and sustaining institutions and procedures that are meant to support judicial independence. One framework posits the factors that influence whether a state will, in the first instance, choose to establish institutions that support judicial independence. A second framework sets out contextual factors which influence whether members of the judiciary will in fact decide cases independently. A third framework focuses on normative and evaluative, rather than causal or predictive claims and assesses the extent to which institutional structures and procedures support or frustrate judges in their exercise of judicial virtues. The first two frameworks illustrate the claim that judicial independence is an essentially contested concept which requires context-specific institutional supports to be made effective. The third framework illustrates the normative nature of inquiries into the nature of judicial independence.

In our view, the comparative approach to judicial independence advanced in this chapter is an advance over alternatives which deny that the idea of judicial independence has any normative content, or assume that a simple description of the concept and the factors that conduce to it is either possible or desirable, or claim that there is a uniform set of institutional structures which is necessary and sufficient for the concept of judicial independence to be given effect in any specific context. We begin with a discussion of our normative conception of the idea of judicial independence.

II.  Preliminary Questions and Methodological Perspectives

In this section, we elaborate our understanding of what kind of a concept judicial independence is, and what consequences for comparative analysis flow from this understanding. Our basic claim is that judicial independence is an essentially contested solution concept. Hence, there are no generally accepted criteria by which the widely differing experiences of states that claim to adhere to the concept could be compared. Consequently, much of the comparative evaluation will depend on how one assesses the normative value of judicial independence. If, as we argue, judicial independence is an intrinsic good, the assessment one makes of its various instantiations will be much different from an evaluation based on consequentialist accounts such as judicial independence being important because it promotes liberal-democratic (p. 836) constitutionalism. Next, we argue that the judicial independence is best understood from the standpoint of virtue ethics. These considerations enable us, in Section III, to examine the utility of different comparative approaches for assessing the extent to which a polity actually shows a commitment to judicial independence.

1.  Judicial Independence: An Essentially Contested Solution Concept

A number of foundational concepts of constitutional law have been characterized by scholars as essentially contested concepts. Among these are the rule of law and judicial independence.11

Jeremy Waldron has argued that an essentially contested concept is normative and complex: participants in a debate about such a concept may agree that the achievement of that concept is valuable and that it involves multiple constituent parts, but disagree about the identity and relevance of the parts.12 In our view, judicial independence is just such a concept. Moreover, we see judicial independence as an example of Waldron’s claim that some essentially contested concepts are ‘solution concepts’. A solution concept:

is the concept of a solution to a problem we’re not sure how to solve, and rival conceptions are rival proposals for solving it or rival proposals for doing the best we can in this regard given that the problem is insoluble.13

This understanding of the idea of judicial independence is particularly salient for present purposes because it permits us to put aside two general critiques of the concept of judicial independence. First, we take those involved in debates about the nature of judicial independence to be engaged in serious and purposeful discussion about the meaning and importance of the concept in constitutional design. We therefore do not attend to arguments raised by those who invoke judicial independence for exclusively rhetorical and strategic reasons.14

Secondly, we exclude from our discussion those who argue that judicial independence is an idea devoid of content. Some scholars argue that the idea of judicial independence raises definitional controversies, and that invocations of it merely serve to obscure genuine disagreements about the nature of adjudication, and about the effects of institutions on judicial performance.15 In response, it may be noted that definitional uncertainties, flowing from competing normative theories, necessarily inhere in essentially contested concepts. Nonetheless, if such concepts are valuable in orienting debate teleologically, then the fact that there is uncertainty about the precise content of judicial independence does not undercut this value.

We now consider in what respects judicial independence is a ‘solution concept’. Generally speaking, scholars engaged in debates about the content of judicial independence understand that protections for judicial independence serve the salutary purpose of insulating those charged with adjudicating disputes from pressures that would lead them to decide cases on (p. 837) the basis of irrelevant or inappropriate considerations. These considerations may relate to the actions of parties to a dispute, or of third parties such as the state, or to their personal self-interest.16 The relevant protections may be designed to safeguard the integrity of the process of adjudication, of the judiciary as a whole, or of individual judges.17 Particular conceptions of judicial independence aim to clarify the nature of the objective of safeguarding the decision-making capacity of judges and to identify the institutional, political, and cultural conditions necessary to bring about that objective, in a particular context. Viewed in this light, contestation between rival conceptions not only enriches understanding of the legal-political problems that judicial independence marks out and is meant to solve, but also of the conditions propitious to its flourishing.18

Seeing judicial independence as a contested solution concept has implications for one other general objection sometimes advanced by critics. According to that objection, because empirical evidence demonstrates that judges do not make decisions based exclusively on existing formal legal considerations, the notion of judicial independence is a myth.19 Yet one can accept the empirical claim and still have productive discussions about judicial independence. This is because the objective of limiting the influence of improper influences on judicial decision-making is not coextensive with the objective of eliminating from such decision-making considerations that go beyond the facts and law as presented by litigants.

Most contemporary legal theorists accept that courts cannot resolve difficult legal questions by appealing to existing legal materials alone.20 There may be disagreement about the appropriate degree and extent to which other considerations bear on judicial decision-making, and indeed even on the scope of the considerations that may be invoked.21 Nonetheless, all reasonable participants in the debate accept that some considerations and some influences are (p. 838) inappropriate.22 For instance, no one contends that the ‘telephone justice’ of Soviet courts, wherein political actors dictated to judges the results of cases before them, and judges followed those dictates because they wanted to receive perquisites in exchange for doing so, reflects an appropriate conception of judicial independence.23

This limit on what the idea of judicial independence can reasonably entail reinforces the claim that judicial independence is a solution concept whose aim is to delineate the influences that can be appropriately brought to bear on judicial decision-making and the considerations that can be appropriately considered by judges. Despite what various authors have claimed, judicial independence is not a mere rhetorical device, nor is it a concept devoid of content, nor is it a form of ex post justification for judicial preferences. It is, rather, an essentially contested concept that presents a particular normative question to which scholarly and professional participants in debates about judicial independence attempt to respond.

2.  The Intrinsic Value of Judicial Independence and the Concept of Judicial Virtue

If one accepts that judicial independence is an essentially contested concept and that those engaged in debates about the idea’s content are involved in a normative undertaking, one would want to know more about the nature of this concept. The previous section argued that preserving decisional independence for judges is a good in itself. In this section we consider what the nature of that good is. Some contemporary scholars claim that judicial independence is inherently instrumental.24 Judicial independence is not an intrinsic good, they argue, because no one would advocate for judicial license, unlimited by any constraints. This argument rests on a non sequitur. It is possible to conceive of judicial independence as an intrinsic good without claiming that such a conception implies that judicial independence entails unfettered judicial discretion. Indeed, we shall argue that a virtue ethics approach to judicial independence, which conceives of judicial independence as an intrinsic good, is superior to instrumental approaches.25

In order to explain why judicial independence is an intrinsic good, we must consider two ideas that often arise in debates about judicial independence: impartiality and accountability. Scholars routinely argue that independence and impartiality are distinct concepts. The judiciary and individual judges may enjoy independence from improper external influence, scholars argue, yet judges may nonetheless fail to decide cases impartially if they fail to weigh relevant considerations when making their decisions.26 Other scholars have argued that a central challenge for constitutional systems lies in designing institutions that ensure the (p. 839) correct mix of judicial independence and judicial accountability.27 Close consideration of the ideas of impartiality, independence, and accountability, leads us towards a non-consequentialist, virtue-centered justification for judicial independence.

Kim Scheppele has claimed that in order for judges to be truly independent they must be in a position to examine the rules of positive law in light of principles that ‘are at some greater level of generality and at some temporal remove from the statutes that judges are called on to apply.’28 Where judges are protected from improper external influences by institutional safeguards, this recourse to higher law acts as an additional guarantee that judges are properly restrained, and are not deciding cases in accordance with mere whims or personal predilections. We interpret Scheppele to be arguing that a judge makes appropriate use of her independence when she properly fulfils her role as a judge, and part of that role involves acting impartially, or in Scheppele’s terms, in accordance with a reasoned understanding of norms that are not commands dictated to her by political actors or interested parties. Scholars claim that the requirement to give reasons grounded in ex ante principle distinguishes courts from the political branches.29 It is primarily through this kind of reason-giving that judges are held accountable to citizens for their decisions, and this form of accountability is distinct from the political mechanisms that render political actors accountable. One might say that judges most fully occupy their institutional role when they engage in principled reasoning.30

This focus on the role of the judge characterizes virtue jurisprudence, which positions itself as an alternative to consequentialist approaches to jurisprudence.31 Virtue jurisprudence focuses on the characteristics or virtues associated with the judicial role, rather than on the consequences of judicial decision-making. In this chapter, we claim that, in any given context, a particular admixture of procedural, institutional, and personal mechanisms for safeguarding independence and accountability can be designed to provide decisional contexts in which judges can be faithful to the role of the virtuous judge.32 What distinguishes our approach from consequentialist ones is that we do not assess the value of judicial independence in terms of its potential extra-judicial consequences, such as the realization of liberal-democratic values, market efficiency, or socio-political stability. Rather, we understand the idea of judicial independence and the role of the judge that this idea implies, to be a good in itself.33

(p. 840) One problem with consequentialist approaches is that the ends to which judicial independence can be said to aim are various and in some instances conflicting. For example, some scholars argue that in established liberal democracies an independent judiciary secures particular ends, including: (1) the regulation of relations among citizens and between citizens and the government according to well-defined laws which clearly set out rights and duties and (2) the provision of a mutually acceptable third party adjudicator to settle disputes about the content of those rights and duties.34 But established liberal democracies are not the only polities that value judicial independence. Authoritarian regimes may create either the patina or the substance of independent judiciaries not to safeguard liberal-democratic ends, but rather, among other reasons: (1) to secure social control, by providing an appearance of legitimacy and by monitoring administrative agencies, (2) to send credible signals of market stability to foreign investors, and (3) to offload controversial policy decisions.35 Similarly, governing parties in emerging democracies may create independent judiciaries either as a form of ‘political insurance’ against subsequent electoral reversals or as ‘commitment’ mechanisms to safeguard their policies should they lose office.36

This variety of possible extra-judicial objectives which the concept of judicial independence can be said to advance makes it difficult to conceive of a coherent instrumentalist approach to the concept. By contrast, a virtue-centered approach to judicial independence focusing on the role of the judge can be broadly captured in a formulation that applies across contexts. It is, for this reason, superior to an instrumentalist approach which must respond to the existence of contestable and sometimes conflicting ends. It is to our understanding of the judicial role and its attendant virtues that we now turn.

3.  Delimiting the Scope of Judicial Independence

In this chapter, we adopt Martin Shapiro’s concept of judicial activity. He writes:

Cutting quite across cultural lines, it appears that whenever two persons come into a conflict that they cannot themselves solve, one solution appealing to common sense is to call upon a third for assistance in achieving a resolution. So universal across both time and space is this simple social invention of triads that we can discover almost no society that fails to employ it. And from its overwhelming appeal to common sense stems the basic legitimacy of courts everywhere. In short, the triad for purposes of conflict resolution is the basic social logic of courts, a logic so compelling that courts have become a universal political phenomenon.37

The utility of a broadly cast concept of the judicial action is that it enables us to focus on important substantive features of the judicial role, and in so doing avoid two problems that arise from approaches that attend only to those entities of the modern state which are denominated as ‘courts’.

(p. 841) First, in our view, such a formalist approach is under-inclusive and treats the peripheral case as central. By contrast, if the mechanisms of judicial independence are understood to safeguard a social institution that supports a particular role, then a functionalist, rather than a formalist, approach to the scope of the concept seems warranted. Such an approach enables one to see how and to what extent both state and non-state entities that fulfil this socio-political role should have their independence safeguarded.38 A functional approach flows, moreover, from adopting a virtue-centered conception of judicial independence. Such a conception points to the personal characteristics of judges which enable them to fulfil this socio-political role. A virtue-centered approach looks to how institutional and cultural conditions that protect judicial independence both facilitate the exercise of judicial virtues including temperance, courage, intelligence, and wisdom, and discourage judges from falling prey to judicial vices such as corruption, cowardice, incompetence, and foolishness.39 Since we are concerned with how the role of the judge and its attendant virtues and vices plays into the concept of judicial independence, we are not preoccupied with whether actors fulfilling that role occupy a particular office denominated in a particular way by the state.40

The second pitfall that we avoid in adopting this functional conception of judicial action is that of over-inclusiveness. Not all activities undertaken by those state entities denominated as ‘courts’ are judicial, and not all activities undertaken by those named as judges involve adjudication. As a consequence, not all protections of judicial independence need extend equally to all the activities of all courts and all the activities of all judges.41 For instance, if courts are engaged fundamentally in lawmaking, rather than in the resolution of conflicts in accordance with preexisting rules, then it is foreseeable that a variety of institutional mechanisms will aim at curtailing the independence of courts and ensuring that they are responsive to public opinion.42 In short, we adopt an open-ended and functionalist understanding of what constitutes judicial activity because such an understanding opens avenues of research and permits fine-grained analyses that a formalist approach forecloses.

(p. 842) A virtue-centered functional approach also enables us to take a broad view of the concept of constitutional independence. We consider courts that have a constitutional function. In addition, we examine the question of what structural and institutional features appear to have a constitutional foundation, whether that be elaborated in a text or in unwritten constitutional principle, and whether these features apply only to state institutions or whether they apply to non-state domestic and international institutions as well.43 With this virtue-centered approach to judicial independence and this conception of the judicial role in view we can set out our comparative law methodology and illustrate its pertinence with specific examples.

III.  The Comparative Law of Judicial Independence

Comparative private law scholars have long engaged in taxonomic exercises, often with reference to legal systems or legal families understood in formalistic terms.44 Even those who use functional analysis to contrast particular legal doctrines, rely on traditional taxonomies—civil law, common law, socialist law, customary law—as analytic categories.45 More recently, public law scholars have favored instead a comparative methodology that focuses on generating testable hypotheses about institutional design choices.46 This type of approach is particularly useful for exploring a virtue-centered understanding of judicial independence. It is evident in several studies considered in this section where scholars advance hypotheses about which social, economic, and political factors influence political actors constitutionally to entrench judicial independence or judicial review. It is also reflected in studies of how various institutional and socio-cultural influences can determine how broad the scope of independent judicial decision-making is.

These comparative studies reveal that different institutional, cultural, and political contexts give rise to different understandings of the appropriate influences that can be brought to bear on judicial decision-making.47 Those differences can be internal to a particular jurisdiction, or revealed in comparisons drawn across jurisdictions or across time.48 As we shall soon see, the significance of judicial independence and the configuration of institutional arrangements that safeguard it may differ depending (inter alia) on whether the judiciary belongs to the common or civil law system, on whether courts have effective enforcement powers, and on whether there is broad societal support for an independent judiciary. These background conditions can influence the configuration of appointments procedures, modes of determining remuneration and of advancing through the hierarchy and securing tenure, as well as the (p. 843) degree of the judicial branch’s administrative independence and the extent to which the legislative and executive branches respond to judicial pronouncements.

Each context-specific variation represents, in our view, a particular understanding of the concept of judicial independence. By examining this diversity of understandings, we advance our ability to assess the value of judicial independence, of its attributes, and of the institutional and cultural conditions necessary for its flourishing.

In the sections that follow, we present different comparative approaches to judicial independence. The first section considers the kinds of incentives that scholars believe lie behind political decisions to establish independent judiciaries and cites examples of states whose decisions appear to be responding to these incentives. The second section examines the influences that scholars have claimed affect the nature and scope of judicial accountability and judicial discretion in a given state. We close our discussion by making normative, rather than explanatory or predictive, claims about judicial independence. Ultimately, we claim that a comparative law methodology aimed at different elements of institutional design reveals the value of a virtue-focused conception of judicial independence and that this methodology is superior to alternatives that aim at pure description or purportedly exhaustive taxonomies.49

1.  Judicial Independence and the Politics of Institutional Design

According to the first group of scholars that we examine, governments choose to create constitutionally independent judiciaries in response to political incentives. In this section, we examine three theories that purport to identify the incentives that motivate governmental decisions to establish constitutionally independent judiciaries: (1) insurance theory; (2) commitment theory; and (3) rule of law theory.

(a)  Insurance Theory

Perhaps the most prominent proponent of the insurance theory is Tom Ginsburg. Ginsburg builds his argument on empirical evidence that strongly suggests that constitutional designers are motivated by their own short-term interests, rather than by the long-term interests of their societies.50 He formulates his general prediction as follows: ‘Explicit constitutional power of and access to judicial review will be greater where political forces are diffused than where a single dominant party exists at the time of constitutional design.’51

Where a majority party dominates at the moment of constitution-making and anticipates continued domination, argues Ginsburg, there are few incentives to create a neutral judiciary charged with enforcing the constitutional bargain. The majority party will instead seek to maximize its ability to exercise power flexibly and will resist any measures or institutional checks that would limit that flexibility. By contrast, where there is political competition at the moment of constitutional founding, the party in power will anticipate the possibility of political reversal and will introduce institutions that limit the powers of subsequent majorities. An independent judiciary vested with a power of judicial review is one such institution and is (p. 844) a low-cost means by which constitutional founders seek to protect themselves and their policies against reversal by subsequent majorities. An independent judiciary provides a forum, outside majoritarian institutions, for minority voices to exercise political influence.

Ginsburg and others have tested the insurance theory in a variety of contexts and have found that the data seems to confirm the theory.52 For instance, scholars note that only after the Labor Party in Israel ceased to dominate the political scene, and there emerged a pattern of alternation between Likud and Labor were legislators sufficiently motivated to eventually pass two Basic Laws that enabled the Israeli Supreme Court to void legislation that contravened those laws.53

Jodi Finkel’s examination of the judiciaries in Argentina, Peru, and Mexico in the 1990s offers a nuanced version of the insurance theory that distinguishes between the initiation and the implementation stages of judicial reform. In the initiation stage, ruling parties create independent judiciaries to hedge against potential political downturns, and typically need to seek the support of opposition parties to satisfy super-majority requirements for constitutional amendment.54 However, once the initiation phase is completed, legislative reforms are necessary to implement the changes, and such implementation only requires the support of legislative majorities. At this point, the ruling party may aggressively assert executive control over the judiciary as the Fujimori regime did in Peru in the 1990s.55 But once faced with the risk of losing power due to political scandals, the regime reversed its policies and introduced reforms that sharply lessened executive control over the judicial branch.

(b)  Commitment Theory

A second theory meant to explain why states may constitutionalize judicial independence propounds that legislative bargains struck by political interest groups are best preserved both by legislative procedural rules that increase the cost of repealing legislation and by judicial review by an independent judiciary.56 According to this version of commitment theory, which has been developed by William Landes and Richard Posner, an independent judiciary will interpret legislation in accordance with the original legislative bargain.

The hypothesis is that because the value to political actors of an independent judiciary is a function of the predictability of judicial decisions and of the judiciary’s willingness to enforce original legislative bargains, judges themselves are incentivized by self-interest to enforce those bargains and not to interpret legislation in ways that reflect the preferences of shifting legislative majorities. In addition, standard measures of protecting judicial independence, (p. 845) such as lengthy tenures and rules against ex parte contact insulate judges from interest group pressure. Those who adopt this theory also predict that where courts are willing to nullify legislative bargains, legislative actors will create administrative adjudicative bodies, with fewer safeguards for independence, even though these bodies, because of lower degrees of independence from interest group and legislative pressure, will generate less consistent decisions over time than will the judiciary.

Commitment theorists hypothesize that the scope and extent of a polity’s constitutional protections for judicial independence will depend on the expected duration of legislative bargains. Scholars claim that when legislators enjoy tenures long enough to credibly offer to interest-groups long-term commitments, the value of an independent judiciary to legislators is lower. Legislators under these conditions will limit the independence of the judiciary by shortening the tenure of judges, either through introducing judicial elections or by appointing older judges. In addition, commitment theorists predict an inverse relationship between legislative tenure and judicial tenure; they posit that the longer the tenure of the legislators, the greater will be judicial turnover. The United States has been the primary site for testing the commitment theory approach, although others such as Mark Ramseyer have extended the analysis to jurisdictions, including Japan in the period in which that country was dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party, and concluded that this dominance correlated with a less independent judiciary.57

(c)  Rule of Law Theory

We label ‘the rule of law theory’ a third approach to explaining when states will create and support independent judiciaries. According to this theory, an independent judiciary is one element of a rule of law regime which secures property rights and guarantees the enforcement of contracts.58 La Porta et al have undertaken a global survey of jurisdictions, using a variety of measures ranging from subjective perceptions of the security of property rights to the extent of state ownership of commercial banks to evaluate degrees of economic freedom.59 Their multi-jurisdiction survey of de jure and de facto institutions and procedures concludes that, in a given state, there is a strong causal relationship between judicial independence and high degrees of economic freedom.

Gretchen Helmke and Frances Rosenbluth dispute this claim about the causal effects of judicial independence, arguing that judicial independence does not automatically lead to respect for rule of law values, or to economic progress.60 They conclude that whether the rule of law thrives is dependent on a range of factors, including a culture of public commitment to the institutions that support the rule of law and a system of separation of powers, of which an independent judiciary may be, but need not be, a part.

However this debate about the causal effects is resolved, it bears notice that some regimes will create at least the appearance of an independent judiciary in order to offer assurances to (p. 846) foreign investors. China is often cited as a case in point, although the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party have drawn criticism on the basis that they do not satisfy minimum criteria for judicial independence.61 Moreover, as Randall Peerenboom argues, to assess the extent to which Chinese judges enjoy independence, it is important to examine closely the institutional and socio-political facts, rather than simply cataloging de jure indicators, and weighing vaguely formulated de facto measures.62 The point is that scholars should be sensitive to context, and to the internal complexity of the Chinese judicial and political system.63

Peerenboom notes that although the Communist Party exerts influence on the judicial system (as is inevitable in a one-party socialist state), such influence cannot simply be presumed to be pernicious. Sometimes Party policies will limit access to courts to enhance the authority of the courts. For example, the Party has instituted policies to direct socio-economic disputes away from the courts, which lack resources and are incompetent to deal with them, towards

administrative reconsideration, mediation, arbitration, public hearings and the political process more generally. … Forcing the courts to handle such cases had undermined the authority of the judiciary and contributed to a sharp rise in petitions and mass protests.64

This sensitivity to the particularities of the political, economic, and social context in which judiciaries are situated suggests that general context-independent causal claims about judicial independence should be advanced with care. Not only does context influence whether a particular state will claim to be promoting the constitutional independence of the judiciary, it will affect whether a state promotes judicial independence in practice. Context will also affect which of the inventory of possible design outcomes are necessary to achieve, in a particular state, the desired outcome of insulating judges from improper influence. In the next section, we argue that a productive path for scholars of comparative judicial independence lies in assessing factors that shape the context in which judges make decisions.

2.  Contexts for Judicial Independence

The literature examined so far focuses on the factors that influence initial decisions by governments to create the institutions of an independent judiciary. In this section we look at studies that examine the factors that shape the extent to which judges can, in fact, exercise independent judgment. These factors include (1) the presence of an authoritarian regime, (2) the existence of cultural norms that downplay adjudication as a settlement device, (3) a commitment in civil and political society to judicial independence, and (4) whether the legal system falls within the civil law or common law tradition.

(p. 847) (a)  Authoritarianism and Its Effects on Judicial Independence

Scholars have shown that authoritarian regimes create independent judiciaries for a variety of reasons. In addition, they have sought to describe the socio-political conditions under which authoritarian regimes are most likely to do so.65 In this section, we explore how these regimes create incentive-structures that influence judicial decision-making. Tamir Moustafa and Tom Ginsburg have catalogued several ways in which authoritarian regimes will set boundaries for the exercise of judicial independence. First, through the threat of retribution, these regimes can encourage courts to act with self-restraint. The authors note that courts under such circumstances may reason expansively in some areas of law, but not in areas that affect the core interests of the relevant regime. Egypt is a prime example of a state where the constitutional court offered rulings that expansively interpreted individual rights and limited the executive, but ‘never ruled on constitutional challenges to the emergency laws or civilian transfers to military courts, which formed the bedrock of regime dominance.’66

A second way in which regimes can constrain courts is by fragmenting the judicial system. Regimes can funnel politically sensitive disputes away from ordinary courts and towards adjudicative bodies over which they exert substantial executive control. In so doing, regimes limit the power of courts, without directly undermining their independence. Moustafa and Ginsburg point to Franco’s Spain as an authoritarian regime in which the courts enjoyed considerable formal and de facto independence, but had a limited sphere of decision-making authority, since the regime had established a parallel adjudicative system to deal with politically sensitive matters.67

Authoritarian regimes can further constrain the capacity of courts to display judicial independence by limiting access to them, either by imposing procedural and financial barriers to access or, more commonly, by tightly limiting the kinds of disputes that courts will hear.68 For example, in Mexico the autocratic regime created a procedure (the amparo trial) that enabled citizens to challenge state action in the courts, but limited the scope of the courts’ jurisdiction such that it precluded challenges based on ‘expropriation of property, harsh economic regulation, and the violation of due process’.69 The independence of these courts is limited because the reasons for which parties can access them are limited. The result, at least in the Mexican case, is that the regime can monitor low-level administrative actors, but insulates itself from rights-based challenges.70

Finally, authoritarian regimes can constrain the courts by appealing to extra-judicial factors. Sometimes this is achieved by appealing to (or inventing) traditional cultural norms that (p. 848) promote dispute settlement by non-adjudicative means such as an appeal to elders or conciliation processes. Alternatively, some regimes seek to undermine supports for an independent the judiciary—a strong bar, a free press, active NGOs, a popular culture of legalism in the general population—within wider civil society. We discuss these informal methods of limiting judicial independence, whether arising in authoritarian or democratic regimes, in the next two sections.

(b)  The Influence of Cultural Norms Downplaying Adjudication

Some have noted that judicial independence can be curtailed in jurisdictions where there is no tradition of adjudication as a mode of dispute resolution. Graig Avino has argued that throughout China’s history, Confucianism has been considered the dominant ideology, and that Confucianism emphasizes persuasion, education, moral example, social hierarchy, and mediation as mechanisms for social control, and relegates traditional legal institutions, including courts, to a secondary status.71 In contemporary China the idea of an independent judiciary is unfamiliar because of this general preference for Confucian modes of social regulation, and because of the Cultural Revolution, which decimated a nascent legal system. Avino lists various indicators that support his claim. These include: (1) political control over judicial decision-making at every level of the judiciary; (2) judges who are not trained in law and are often appointed precisely because they can be expected to answer directly to political officials; and (3) endemic corruption in the judiciary. He concludes that recent judicial reforms, which aim to create an independent judiciary, are as yet insufficient to overcome these impediments.72

As noted, some scholars consider such claims about judicial independence in China to be overdrawn.73 Others have directly challenged the claim about the influence of cultural beliefs like Confucianism on judicial independence. According to Ginsburg, a close examination of the recent history of Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, and Mongolia reveals that cultural barriers did not preclude the emergence of courts that were willing to engage in aggressive constitutional review and to significantly constrain political actors. This analysis is particularly striking because authoritarian regimes in East Asia have routinely invoked Confucian ideas to justify their rule, and because the intellectual history and resources of the region provide little to support indigenous theories of judicial review by independent courts.74

Despite these cultural obstacles, countries in East Asia during the 1980s and 1990s joined in the global trend of instituting judicial review of legislative and executive action.75 Moreover, in each state he examined, Ginsburg found constitutional courts to be assertive in their judicial review function and that their institutional contexts supported this assertiveness. He concludes that two variables best explain the emergence of assertive judicial review in the countries he surveys: the existence of a middle class, and the diffusion of political power amongst political parties.76

(c)  A Commitment in Civil and Political Society to Judicial Independence

If the East Asian example provides mixed evidence about whether cultural variables influence a state’s receptivity to judicial independence and openness to the related phenomenon of (p. 849) aggressive constitutional review, other analyses suggest that judicial independence is likely to thrive in contexts where the civic and political culture supports the idea of insulating the judiciary from inappropriate political interference. Daniel Beers argues, based on two Central European case studies, that informal political and judicial culture is a better predictor of whether courts will exercise their judgment independently from external influences than are formal institutional indicia of judicial independence.77 Beers claims that in Romania, formal institutional structures supporting judicial independence were created in response to pressures from external actors, including the European Union, but without the support of domestic elites.78 By contrast, he notes that although the formal safeguards of judicial independence in the Czech Republic are much less sophisticated than those in Romania, Czech political and legal elites have fostered a culture of commitment to judicial independence.

Judges in the two countries were surveyed regarding judicial autonomy (their perceived degree of freedom from undue influence of outside actors or superiors), judicial integrity (susceptibility of judges to corruption), and the morale of the judiciary (professional satisfaction and commitment of judges).79 Czech judges perceived significantly higher degrees of autonomy and integrity in their judicial system than did Romanian judges in theirs. To the extent that such perceptions are accurate indicators of the degree of independence the judiciary in fact enjoys, Beers’ analysis suggests that, in states having recently become democracies, the informal culture of political and legal elites plays a more significant role in fostering judicial independence than do formal legal protections.

The experience of states in Latin America provides additional support for this conclusion. Rachel Sieder notes that significant investments in institutional reform of the Guatemalan legal system have not yielded an independent and effective judiciary, in large part because ‘historical processes, cultural understandings and material interests’ have militated against it.80 According to Sieder, despite wide-ranging legal reforms, some of which were instituted with the support of international organizations,81 there is pervasive corruption in the judiciary. Because Guatemalan judges are poorly trained and poorly paid, and largely immune from effective oversight, they are susceptible to corruption. Moreover, powerful elite groups, including the military, exercise significant influence in the judicial system and engage in extensive interference with judicial processes. As a consequence, she concludes, the public distrusts the justice system and relies instead on private solutions, including vigilante activities and extra-judicial executions, thus further undermining the authority of the state judicial system.82

By contrast, Columbia’s Constitutional Court has effectively and actively controlled government abuses of power, in significant part because of widespread support for the court (p. 850) within civil society. Rodrigo Uprimny claims that this effectiveness can be explained by: (1) an established history of judicial review; (2) widespread disenchantment with the political processes, which led the population to seek from the judiciary resolutions of political disputes; (3) alliances between justices on the court and social actors to advance progressive constitutional values; and (4) a broad social understanding that it is appropriate for courts to engage in assertive judicial review.83 These social and cultural factors, combined with a range of institutional factors (ie, a low-cost, accessible system of constitutional review, centralized authority in the Constitutional Court, and substantial financial investment in the Court), to support the actions of an independent-minded judiciary.84

(d)  Civil Law versus Common Law

Although the tendency of comparative public law scholars today is to shift attention away from legal families and towards particular legal institutions, legal family comparisons are sometimes adopted in order to examine ways in which institutional characteristics of common and civil law systems shape the extent to which judges can exercise independent judgment. This approach does not presume that legal traditions have distinct and incommensurable epistemologies; rather, scholars examine the institutional features of legal traditions in order to assess whether and, if so, how these features might affect the ways in which judges actually decide cases.85

Some have argued that the significant differences between common and civil law systems as to how judges are appointed and how they advance through the judicial hierarchy influence the extent to which they exercise independent judgment. For instance, Charles Koch has argued that because civilian judges are specifically trained to be judges, and self-select and self-regulate, they are more likely to exercise independent judgment than their common law counterparts.86 He claims that unlike common law judges, who bring to their positions prior experiences as lawyers, the civilian system of training inculcates in judges ‘an otherworldly objectivity’.87 Moreover, he notes that because civil law judges self-regulate they are not subject to external pressures, as are, for instance administrative law judges in the United States who do not enjoy security of tenure and who carry out the vast majority of adjudications.88 Finally, notes Koch, judges in the civilian tradition engage in peer monitoring, which occurs through mentorship and through training that leads to advancement. According to him, collective (p. 851) decision-making of this kind provides opportunities for judges to check corruption and to overcome cognitive biases.89

While Koch highlights these features of civilian courts to illustrate how they contribute to greater degrees of judicial independence, others have argued that some of these features can undermine judicial independence.90 Consider the issue of control over advancement in civil law systems. In the Japanese system, there is a judicial administrative office, the Secretariat, which is staffed by judges, is controlled by justices of the Supreme Court (who are politically appointed), and is responsible for assigning judges to (more or less prestigious) geographic locations and for moving judges up and down the judicial hierarchy. According to Ramseyer and Rasmusen, judges ‘who flout the ruling party in politically volatile cases pay a career penalty’;91 the Secretariat effectively punishes them through its assignment and promotion decisions.92 Garoupa and Ginsburg argue that common law judges, by contrast, have fewer opportunities for career advancement and for changes in assignment, and are therefore less susceptible to being influenced by decisions relating to these matters than are civil law judges.93

In addition to distinguishing common and civil law systems on the basis of their appointment, management, and advancement practices, scholars have argued that differences in degrees of bureaucratization and forms of reasoning have implications for the extent of judicial independence in the two traditions.94 Edward Glaeser and Andreis Shleifer claim that codification of law facilitates centralized state control over courts, whereas common law principles do not. The authors argue that civil codes are compilations of bright-line rules and that the underlying purpose of codification is for the legislature to control judges: these rules limit the scope of judicial discretion and allow the legislators to verify and monitor the decisions of judges.95 By contrast, Glaeser and Shleifer argue that common law judges have greater interpretive autonomy as they, rather than the legislature, establish the precedents that guide common law reasoning. Even when interpreting statutes and codified bodies of law, they also assert, common law judges do so in light of common law principles and of the specific facts of the case.96

These claims have attracted a range of criticisms, including that the differences between common and civil law traditions are exaggerated. Gillian Hadfield notes that comprehensive codes exist in common law countries, and that statutory regimes in civil law countries dealing with, for instance, environmental regulation are indistinguishable from those found in common law countries.97 Moreover, authors note that civil law judges do not necessarily ignore decisions by previous courts, nor do civil law judges deny that they sometimes exercise a policy-making function.98 Finally, the claims about relative degrees of legislative control over (p. 852) judges do not account for the fact that in civil law jurisdictions, as elsewhere, courts have been engaged in aggressive judicial review of legislation.99 Particularly relevant for the present discussion is the fact that constitutional courts in civil law jurisdictions have engaged in expansive modes of interpretation that do not conform to the image of a judiciary bound by legislative dictates. As Alec Stone Sweet has observed, in France, the Constitutional Council has generated novel constitutional principles and in Germany, the Federal Constitutional Court has engaged in broad interpretations of the constitutional text.100

This survey of the literature suggests that the correlation of degrees of judicial independence with membership in a particular legal family is not self-evident. Nonetheless, we suggest that the impetus underlying public law scholars’ arguments about correlations—namely, identifying factors that influence judicial decision-making—is a useful one. It reflects, indeed, the contemporary focus in the judicial independence literature on those institutional design elements which are assumed to protect judicial independence.101

3.  The Virtues of Judging

In the previous section we explored what Lydia Tiede has called the ‘institutional approach’ to judicial independence, in which ‘certain institutional configurations, or rules of the game, affect the behavior of political actors’.102 We close this section with some reflections on the relationship between, on the one hand, the institutional and cultural contexts in which judges exercise judgment and, on the other hand, the role of the virtuous judge.

We begin our discussion by discussing two virtues identified by Pimentel: judicial courage and judicial integrity. According to Pimentel, this form of courage ‘enables the judge to withstand pressures and influences, even threats and exercise true independence in her decision-making.’103 Judicial integrity, he argues, is a necessary supplement to judicial courage and entails ‘a commitment to the highest principles of judicial decision-making’.104 These judicial virtues are related, but not reducible to the institutional analyses surveyed above. Features of their institutional context may provide incentives for judges to exercise independent judgment, or may offer disincentives for doing so. Nonetheless, a conception of judicial independence that emphasizes judicial virtues requires judges in some circumstances to resist the incentive structure in which they operate. Judges acting in accordance with the virtues exercise phronesis, or practical wisdom, and features of the contexts in which judges are trained, appointed, and work can cultivate and support the judicial capacity for practical wisdom.105 (p. 853) But even (or perhaps especially) in the absence of such supporting features, judges can exercise independent judgment or judgment that does not respond to inappropriate influences.

In examining what such judgment entails, we fold what Tiede has called the ‘strategic interaction approach’ into our conception of the necessary connection between judicial independence and judicial virtue. According to this approach, judges are strategic actors who recognize that in order to attain their preferred outcomes on issues they need to understand and anticipate the preference of other institutional actors, including legislatures, the executive, and other judges or courts.106 An approach animated by the judicial virtues introduces two insights into this discussion. First, rather than conceive of judges as being motivated by a desire to induce legislators, executive actors and lower courts to comply with their personal policy preferences, a virtue-focused conception of judging understands judges to be making normative judgments that are not motivated by self-interest. Under such an approach, judges who exemplify judicial courage will write decisions that reflect their best interpretations of the law and relevant public policy. Of course, the elected branches may try to exert influence over the judiciary by, for instance, strategic appointments, limiting its resources, increasing the number of administrative agencies, and thus lessening the courts’ ability to supervise government decision-making or to enforce compliance with their judgments.107 The point we make here, however, is that when exercising the virtue of judicial courage, judges resist pressures on them to make self-interested judgments, whatever the institutional context in which they operate.

Recent examples of the virtue of courage include the experience of Judge J. Skelly Wright, a district court judge in Louisiana during the 1950s and 1960s who was the object of intense public criticism and threats of violence because of his desegregation rulings, and of Italian prosecuting magistrates such as Giovanni Falcone, who were murdered for their decisions. These examples are particularly striking, but there are myriad ways in which to exhibit judicial courage. Judges in systems that tie career advancement to judgments favoring the government can exhibit courage by ignoring these inducements. Similarly, judges in cultural and societal contexts in which corruption is endemic and political reprisals for decisions contrary to the interests of government are common can exercise their judgment without regard to these pressures. Finally, judges can exhibit courage by not seeking the approval of the press, the academy, or interest groups. In all of these instances, judicial courage is evidenced by a willingness to make decisions based on one’s best understanding of the relevant legal principles. Of course, one can characterize the belief that one should be bound by legal principle as reflecting a personal preference. Yet, as others have argued, it is this kind of belief that marks out legal from non-legal reasoning, and moreover, it is a commitment to this kind of reasoning that characterizes the role of the judge.108

Difficult questions about judicial independence arise in circumstances where judges are called upon to make pragmatic judgments about how the political branches will respond to judicial decisions. Some scholars measure judicial independence by referring to the number of times that a court rules against the government.109 Sophisticated models have been (p. 854) developed to identify when courts will act strategically in anticipation of government reprisals. Scholars examining US courts argue that in the face of likely reprisals a judge will ‘forego his or her most preferred choice and instead choose the next best option that he or she believes the other relevant institutional actors will support.’110 In her analysis of the Argentine judiciary in the period from 1976 to 1999, Gretchen Helmke has argued that where judges do not enjoy effective protections against government reprisals, judges will engage in ‘strategic defection’. This form of defection occurs when judges who share the preferences of the incumbent regime rule against it in anticipation of imminent regime change. Under these conditions, judges fear reprisals from the next government and render decisions to send signals in order to lessen the likelihood of potential reprisals from that government.111

The challenge for a virtue-centered conception of judicial independence lies in distinguishing cases that represent a reasoned and pragmatic interpretation of the law from those that evidence judicial self-interest. Constitutional law scholars have argued that when courts construct constitutional doctrine, they make pragmatic judgments about their institutional competences and about the likely institutional effects of their decisions.112 These scholars argue against perfectionist accounts of constitutional law, which imagine constitutional reasoning to be coextensive with political theory.113 Yet if constitutional doctrine is not identical to political theory, neither are the pragmatic judgments embedded in doctrine simple calculations based on self-interest, although they may overlap with self-interested actions. For instance, judges may refrain from issuing certain kinds of judgments because they are concerned that such judgments will attract governmental reprisals or governmental indifference that will undermine the credibility of the judiciary.114 In such circumstances, they may be making considered decisions about the importance of protecting the credibility of the judiciary as an institution, at the same time as they are advancing their self-interest. What is significant for our account is that judges are only acting virtuously to the extent that their judgment is grounded in the former kind of justification.

Theunis Roux finds an example of pragmatic constitutional reasoning that can be characterized as exemplifying constitutional integrity in the jurisprudence of the South African Constitutional Court concerning the manner in which the government allocates public resources.115 The scholarly literature routinely expresses concern about whether courts enjoy a democratic mandate or the institutional capacity to undertake this kind of review. Nonetheless, in a case challenging the constitutionality of a municipality’s failure to provide temporary shelter to a homeless community,116 the Court arrived at a holding that enabled it to enforce a constitutional right, without substituting its judgment for the judgment of the political branches about how to manage budgets. According to Roux, the Court found, in a holding reminiscent of Brown v Board of Education that ‘it was unreasonable for the state to (p. 855) “exclude” a significant element of society from the national housing programme, especially where such a group was poor or otherwise vulnerable.’117 While nonetheless insisting that the political branches undertake reasonable measures to fulfill their constitutional obligations, the Court left them discretion to decide the timing and the amount of funding to allocate. Roux points to a variety of factors which have permitted the Court successfully to build its legitimacy and safeguard its jurisdictional authority in a period of constitutional transformation, notably that the judges themselves are of high caliber and that the judges broadly share the political views of the governing elites.118 For our purposes, the South African Court’s jurisprudence illustrates how judges can display the virtue of integrity—making pragmatic decisions that benefit the judiciary, without acting exclusively in their self-interest.

IV.  Conclusion

Citizens have a legitimate interest in the quality of justice that is delivered by the several governance institutions of the state. In many contemporary states, the assumption is that the difficult issues of interpersonal, social, and economic justice will be settled by legislatures and that legislative enactments will be fairly administered by the agents of an accountable executive. In these states citizens also assume that should there be a disagreement about the meaning of a statute or other legal rule—whether the conflict is between citizens (private law), between citizen and state (administrative law), between citizen and society (criminal law), between orders and institutions of government (constitutional law), or about the fundamental principles of the legal order (the rule of law, civil liberties, human rights)—an independent, impartial third party institution (invariably courts) will hear the dispute and render a just decision.

While citizen intuitions about judicial independence find confirmation in constitutional theory and in the institutional arrangements actually in place in many states, the meaning of the concept is typically not well understood by the general public. The above review of the theory and practice of judicial independence reveals the complexity of the inquiry. Nevertheless, when we turn away from current examples and even from current theories we see that, in a broader sociological framework, the formalistic inquiry into institutions and practices promoting judicial independence could better be cast as one related to the integrity of ‘processes of social ordering’. What kind of research agenda would such an inquiry command?

An initial challenge is to understand the total social, economic, and political context within which the concept of judicial independence is invoked in a given state. However conventional it may be to consider the judiciary as a necessary branch of modern government, it bears remembering that the decision to establish a judiciary is a political choice. Hence the question why almost all contemporary states have an official agency to decide disputes and, in doing so, to articulate fundamental legal-political commitments. Moreover, however much it may be that mediation is an appropriate mechanism for dispute-resolution in many fields, there are some tasks (typically involving the constitution: separation of powers, division of powers, bills of rights) where an authoritative third party decision is required.119

(p. 856) Yet even after we have decided what we want courts to do and the qualities we want to see reflected in our judicial system, we are still a long way from knowing what institutional design to adopt. For we also need to decide whether achieving a close match between the outcomes produced by a given judicial process and the substantive outcomes we desire is the only goal that we would attribute to a process of system design. The point can be illustrated by posing the following hypothetical alternatives: Do we want a judicial process that will generate the best substantive outcomes, even if that process is secret, mysterious, anti-democratic, corrupt, costly, and slow? Or do we want a process that is open, accessible, democratic, honest, efficient, and cheap, even if it generates suboptimal outcomes? Much of the challenge in institutional design is to recognize, organize, and justify the inevitable trade-offs among the different goals—procedural and substantive—we seek to achieve. Understandably, these trade-offs may not be made in precisely the same way in all states.

To imagine the concept of judicial independence as a central feature of political governance is to conceive the judiciary as an institution that enables citizens to achieve an impartial resolution of inter-subjective conflict, and to conscript the resources of the state to the enforcement of judgments courts render. A meaningful concept of the judiciary as a governance institution speaks as much to issues of interdependence as it does to issues of independence. That is, in order for a judiciary to function as a governance institution, other substantive and procedural features must be present in a constitutional system. A judiciary assumes that there exist ex ante legal rules upon which citizens in a conflict may base a claim of right; it also assumes a rational process for framing, presenting, and contesting rights claims—rules of civil procedure, rules of evidence, the existence of a legal profession, a reasonably cheap, expeditious, and uncomplicated process that effects accessible justice; the possibility of designing remedies that provide a reasonable proxy for the actual hurt or conflict between the parties; the need for an effective process of enforcement of judgments; and finally, that the whole process, beginning to end, not be tainted by any hint of partiality, prejudice, or special interest—that all be equal before the law and before the judge.

To see the judiciary as an independent governance institution means that it stands apart from other governance institutions in a state and that it has a mind and will of its own under a doctrine of separation of powers sufficient to provide an effective check on the abuse of power by the political branches of government. The judiciary must have a high degree of structural autonomy and immunity. Autonomy and immunity sustain both the independence and the related, but distinct, idea of impartiality in the judicial process. A judiciary may be in principle independent, but in a particular case, a judge may not be impartial—that is, may display favoritism towards one party. So, for example, in a law suit against the government, or in a criminal trial, or in a case of judicial supervision of administrative discretion it is important that the judiciary be independent of the apparatus of the state—notably of the executive that has selected it, or the judicial bureaucracy within which a judge operates. Where decisions favor the state, it may be that although the judiciary is independent, it is not impartial and its decisions are coloured by inappropriate considerations. But impartiality may flow in the other direction. A judiciary may be independent of the executive and legislature but partial in favor of interests other than the state. Corporations may well have the resources to influence judicial decisions improperly. Some judges may refuse to convict obviously guilty murderers because they disbelieve in a mandatory death sentence.

At its most general level, applicable to all human decision-making institutions and roles, whether official or unofficial, public or private, judicial or non-judicial, the fundamental objective is to ensure that persons who have been assigned such a responsibility perform their function with due regard to the internal integrity of the role. Do we get good judges because (p. 857) we have good judicial institutions, or do we get good judicial institutions because we have good judges? The evidence worldwide is equivocal. Yet this much is clear. Because there is no such thing as mechanical judicial decision-making, there will always be a moment of personal judgment in every judicial decision. This suggests that the most important criterion for judicial independence and impartiality is the quality and character of the judges appointed. Institutional structure and procedures help to ensure that those already inclined to perform their role faithfully will do so, but structure and procedure will not alone lead to integrity of character in a morally lax person.

Independence requires fidelity to role—the personal integrity of the person appointed. To achieve a virtuous judiciary, it is not enough simply to choose them wisely. It is also necessary to: (1) celebrate their selection; (2) provide them with the information necessary to understand the tasks they will be expected to perform; (3) generate a commitment to the mission and the importance of the institution they are joining; (4) train them well; (5) provide them with meaningful feedback about their performance; (6) pay them decent salaries; (7) publicly value the job they are doing; (8) praise them for their successes; (9) provide them with the necessary help to do their job better; (10) furnish them with ongoing opportunities to learn and reflect about their role and responsibilities; (11) treat them properly and with respect; (12) give them a mandate that is within the capacity of a normal human being to accomplish; (13) avoid overburdening them with a caseload that is soul-destroying; and (14) defend them against ill-tempered and ill-considered critiques from those who have no clue about the nature of their job, the pressures they face, the pathologies and inconsistencies of the law they are meant to administer, and the sometimes perverse behavior of those who appear before them.120

All of the above factors operate in tandem with each other. The absence of a rigorous vetting of the quality of judges at the time of appointment might be compensated by structures and processes of in-service encadrement. The absence of institutional protections like life tenure and guaranteed remuneration might be compensated by strong administrative autonomy vested in courts. The absence of formal guarantees of independence in a written constitution might be compensated by a strong political and social culture supporting judicial integrity. The absence of a professional magistracy backed with years of training and a collegial decision-making process might be compensated by a legal culture that lionizes judges. How each of these plays out in any particular state and any particular institution will vary. The challenges and optimal responses are embedded in the sets of pressures that actually exist in time and place.

The fact that judicial independence is both an essentially contested concept, and can be achieved with a wide variety of matches of formal and informal, institutional and customary, ex ante and ex post, substantive and procedural norms, depending on the legal, political, and socio-economic-religious culture in a state, has implications for future comparative research. In our view, the appropriate research agenda would aim at discerning the strength of the norm of integrity among judges and their actual decision-making practices. It would also examine the institutional and cultural factors that are central in particular context to the inculcation, promotion, and protection of judicial virtue. This empirical and normatively focused inquiry promises more significant insights than taxonomic inventories of ‘standard institutional and procedural features’ that are purportedly necessary components of an independent judiciary.

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*  We gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Allison Rhoades and Owen Ripley, both BCL/LLB 2011 graduates of the McGill Faculty of Law and the financial support of the SSHRC and the Ratpan Fund.

1  Compare Muskrat v United States 219 US 346 (1911) with Reference re Secession of Quebec [1998] 2 SCR 217.

2  See Luc Heuschling, ‘Why Should Judges Be Independent?’ in Katja S. Zielger et al (eds), Constitutionalism and the Role of Parliaments (2007), 199.

3  Reference re Remuneration of Provincial Court Judges [1997] 3 SCR 3.

4  See eg R v Kirby; Ex parte Boilermakers’ Society of Australia [1956] HCA 10, (1956) 94 CLR 254.

5  On constitutional courts, see Chapter 38.

6  See generally the essays in András Sajó (ed), Judicial Integrity (2004).

7  See R.A. Macdonald, ‘Parametres of Politics in Judicial Appointments’, Research paper prepared for La Commission d’enquête sur le processus de nomination des juges du Québec, September 1, 2010, available at <http://www.cepnj.gouv.qc.ca/etudes-des-experts.html>.

8  For an example of the ‘checklist inventory’ of essential characteristics of a legal concept meant to enable a comparative assessment of the degree to which a given state respects that concept, see the World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2010 (2010).

9  This inventory is drawn from Peter Russell, ‘A General Theory of Judicial Independence Revisited’ in Adam Dodek et al (eds), Judicial Independence in Context (2010), 599. Rafael La Porta et al, ‘Judicial Checks and Balances’ (2004) 112 Journal of Political Economy 445 show how an inventory like Russell’s can be applied to a comparative survey of judicial independence.

10  For a survey of such judicial pronouncements, see Norman Dorsen et al, Comparative Constitutionalism: Cases and Materials (2003), 308–27.

11  For a well-argued characterization of judicial independence as an essentially contested concept, see Sanford Levinson, ‘Identifying “Independence”’ (2006) 86 Boston University Law Review 1297, 1298.

12  Jeremy Waldron, ‘Is the Rule of Law an Essentially Contested Concept?’ (2002) 21 Law and Philosophy 137, 150.

13  Ibid 158.

14  Levinson (n 11), 1298, observes that the concept is often strategically wielded in attempts to justify, without argument, institutional design choices that favor one set of values (ie, judicial autonomy) over others (ie, political accountability).

15  See eg Lewis A. Kornhauser, ‘Is Judicial Independence a Useful Concept?’ in Stephen B. Burbank and Barry Friedman (eds), Judicial Independence at the Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Approach (2002), 9, 53–4.

16  In this chapter we claim that the judicial function follows what Martin Shapiro has called the ‘logic of triad in conflict resolution’. Martin Shapiro, Courts: A Comparative and Political Analysis (1981), 1. See further A. Kojève, Esquisse d’une phénoménologie du droit: exposé provisoire (1981). As it does for Shapiro and Kojève, this open-ended conception of the judicial function allows us to include in our analysis a wide range of institutions in which participants would recognizably be seen to be exercising judicial functions, even if they do not correspond to what Shapiro identifies as ‘the ideal type’ of courts. For individual and institutional aspects of judicial independence, see John Ferejohn, ‘Explaining Judges, Dependent Judiciary: Explaining Judicial Independence’ (1999) 72 Southern California Law Review 353, 354–6.

17  Typically, authors argue that judicial independence involves insulation from the influence of the executive and legislative branches. See eg Irving R. Kaufman, ‘The Essence of Judicial Independence’ (1980) 80 Columbia Law Review 671 and William R. Lederman, ‘The Independence of the Judiciary’ (1956) 34 Canadian Bar Review 769. Authors have noted that judicial independence, in the sense of the independence of individual judges, can also be compromised by institutional features of the judicial branch. Eg, lower court judges may seek to advance to higher courts by drafting decisions that appeal to those in charge of selecting appellate court judges. See Levinson (n 11), 1302. Or they may seek to curry favor and choice assignments by deciding in ways that please the chief justice of their court. See Roderick A. Macdonald, ‘Appoint Elect, Draw Straws or Sell to the Highest Bidder? On Judicial Selection Processes’ in Pierre Noreau (ed), Mélanges Andrée Lajoie (2008), 731. Similarly, in Japan, judges are incentivized, for career reasons, to avoid negative assessments by senior peers. See J. Mark Ramseyer and Eric B. Rasmusen, ‘Why Are Japanese Judges So Conservative in Politically Charged Cases?’ (2001) 95 American Political Science Review 331.

18  See Waldron (n 12), 152.

19  See eg Terri Jennings Peretti, ‘Does Judicial Independence Exist? The Lessons of Social Science Research’ in Burbank and Friedman (n 15), 103.

20  Consider the positions of positivists and anti-positivists on this point. Compare H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law (2nd edn, Penelope A. Bulloch and Joseph Raz (eds), 1994), 205 and Ronald Dworkin, ‘In Praise of Theory’ (1997) 29 Arizona State Law Journal 353, 356–7.

21  Some appellate court judges themselves acknowledge that the extent of their discretion is relatively broad, and that their decisions can, as a consequence, be fairly described as ‘legislative’ in nature. See eg Richard A. Posner, How Judges Think (2008), 15.

22  Posner (n 21), chs 6–8. For a similar claim, which aims to identify conditions of judicial dependence, see Christopher M. Larkins, ‘Judicial Independence and Democratization: A Theoretical and Conceptual Analysis’ (1996) 44 American Journal of Comparative Law 605.

23  On telephone justice, see Stephen Breyer, ‘Judicial Independence: Remarks by Justice Breyer’ (2007) 95 Georgetown Law Journal 903, 904.

24  See eg Stephen B. Burbank, ‘What Do We Mean by ‘Judicial Independence’?’ (2003) 64 Ohio State Law Journal 323, 325: ‘judicial independence is a means to an end (or, more probably, to more than one end)’ (original emphasis). See also Peter H. Russell, ‘Toward a General Theory of Judicial Independence’ in Peter H. Russell and David O’Brien (eds), Judicial Independence in the Age of Democracy (2001), 1.

25  R.A. Macdonald, ‘Exercising Judgement’ in M. Robert (ed), Which Judge for Which Society? Proceedings of the 2008 Judges Conference (2008), 53.

26  Frank Cross, ‘Thoughts on Goldilocks and Judicial Independence’ (2003) 64 Ohio State Law Journal 195, 198–9. See also Paul D. Carrington, ‘Judicial Independence in Excess: Reviving the Judicial Duty of the Supreme Court’ (2008–09) 94 Cornell Law Review 587.

27  See eg Charles G. Geyh, ‘Judicial Independence, Judicial Accountability and the Role of Constitutional Norms in Congressional Regulation of the Courts’ (2003) 78 Indiana Law Journal 153 n 26. See also John A. Ferejohn and Larry D. Kramer, ‘Independent Judges, Dependent Judiciary: Institutionalizing Judicial Restraint’ (2002) 77 NYU Law Review 962, 975.

28  Kim Lane Scheppele, ‘Declarations of Independence: Judicial Reactions to Political Pressure’ in Burbank and Friedman (n 15), 227, 245.

29  See eg Christopher L. Eisgruber, Constitutional Self-Government (2001), 59–62. Others have argued that judicial accountability is preserved by a variety of institutions which make courts responsive to public opinion. See eg Barry Friedman, ‘The Politics of Judicial Review’ (2005) 84 Texas Law Review 257. Still others note that institutional controls are necessary to ensure that judges are subject to restraints on institution-aggrandizing tendencies. See eg Carlos Santiso, ‘Economic Reform and Judicial Governance in Brazil: Balancing Independence with Accountability’ in Siri Gloppen et al (eds), Democratization and the Judiciary (2004), 161, 172.

30  Paul J. Kelly, ‘Impartiality: A Philosophical Perspective’ in Sajó (n 6), 17.

31  See Lawrence B. Solum, ‘Virtue Jurisprudence: A Virtue-Centered Theory of Judging’ (2003) 34 Metaphilosophy 178; Macdonald (n 25), 61–70.

32  For a similar, virtue-centered approach to judicial independence and accountability, which also rejects instrumentalist arguments for judicial independence, see David Pimentel, ‘Reframing the Independence v Accountability Debate: Defining Judicial Structure in Light of Judges’ Courage and Integrity’ (2009) 57 Cleveland State Law Review 2. See also Macdonald (n 17).

33  For a similar, non-consequentialist approach to judicial independence, see Ammon Reichman, ‘Judicial Non-Dependence’ in Adam Dodek and Lorne Sossin (eds), Judicial Independence in Context (2010), 438, 441 n 7.

34  Russell (n 24), 9–10.

35  This list is drawn from Tamir Moustafa and Tom Ginsburg, ‘Introduction: The Function of Courts in Authoritarian Politics’ in Tamir Moustafa and Tom Ginsburg (eds), Rule by Law: the Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes (2008), 1, 4–10.

36  For the classic statement of the idea of judicial independence as a mechanism for securing legislative bargains, see William M. Landes and Richard A. Posner, ‘The Independent Judiciary in an Interest-Group Perspective’ (1975) 18 Journal of Law and Economics 875. For an application of the insurance theory to developing democracies, see Jodi S. Finkel, Judicial Reform as Political Insurance: Argentina, Peru and Mexico in the 1990s (2008).

37  Shapiro (n 16), 1. See also Kojève (n 16) and Macdonald (n 17).

38  In this sense, we accept Professor Edward Rubin’s criticism of the ‘jurocentric character of American legal scholarship’. See Edward L. Rubin, ‘Independence as a Governance Mechanism’ in Burbank and Friedman (n 15), 56, 56. For a critical examination of the idea of judicial independence, in the context of US administrative law judges, see James E. Moliterno, ‘The Administrative Judiciary’s Independence Myth’ (2003) 64 Ohio State Law Journal 332. See also R.A. Macdonald, ‘The Acoustics of Accountability’ in Sajó (n 6), 141. For a comparative analysis of independent disinterested bodies, other than courts, which review public law and public policy, see Bronwen Morgan, ‘The Internationalization of Economic Review of Legislation: Non-Judicial Legalization?’ in Tom Ginsburg and Robert A. Kagan (eds), Institutions and Public Law: Comparative Approaches (2005), 245.

39  For this list of judicial virtues and vices and what they entail, see Solum (n 31), 185–200.

40  Indeed, scholars have noted that in certain circumstances, state-controlled adjudication may yield perverse consequences. In other situations, non-state adjudication is simply more prevalent than state-controlled adjudication. For the former, see Javier A. Couso, ‘The Politics of Judicial Review in Chile in the Era of Democratic Transition, 1990–2002’ in Gloppen et al (n 29), 70 at 88. For the latter, see Siri Glopen, ‘The Accountability Function of Courts in Tanzania and Zambia’ in Gloppen et al (n 29), 112 at 131.

41  For the classic analysis of how courts in public law cases embrace activities beyond simple adjudication, see Abram Chayes, ‘The Role of the Judge in Public Law Litigation’ (1976) 89 Harvard Law Review 1281.

42  See on this point, Stephen B. Burbank, ‘Judicial Independence, Judicial Accountability and Interbranch Relations’ (2008) 137 Daedalus 16, Nuno Garoupa and Tom Ginsburg, ‘Guarding the Guardians: Judicial Councils and Judicial Independence’ (2009) 57 American Journal of Comparative Law 103, and Friedman (n 29). For a comparative analysis of institutional responses, see Shapiro (n 16), 32–5. For a catalog of powers that post-socialist courts exercise, including powers that are explicitly legislative in nature, see Tom Ginsburg, ‘Beyond Judicial Review: Ancillary Powers of Constitutional Courts’ in Ginsburg and Kagan (n 38), 225. Of course, some lawmaking, such as the promulgation of rules of practice, is intrinsic to the adjudicative function, and should be covered by the judicial independence norm.

43  In so framing how we understand the concept of ‘constitutionalized judicial independence’, we are characterizing the judicial role in light of our understanding of the normative question posed by the concept of judicial independence. Other analyses, undertaken for other purposes might highlight other aspects of the judicial role. For a brief statement of those aspects see the ‘Introduction’ and ‘Conclusion’ to this chapter.

44  The leading proponent of this kind of comparative law over the past half century has been René David. See R. David and C. Jauffret-Spinosi, Les grands systèmes de droit comparé (11th edn, 2002). For an overview of the literature, and a proposal for a novel innovative taxonomic scheme, see H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World (4th edn, 2010).

45  Rudolf Schlesinger, Comparative Law: Cases, Text, Materials (6th edn, 1998).

46  See Martin Shapiro, ‘Law, Courts and Politics’ in Ginsburg and Kagan (n 38), 275, 275.

47  See Ferejohn (n 16), 377.

48  Some have noted that the overwhelming focus of US scholarship has been on the Supreme Court, and have speculated about the career incentives that motivate scholars to maintain such a focus. See Stephen B. Burbank, ‘The Architecture of Judicial Independence’ (1999) 723 Southern California Law Review 315.

49  We do not dismiss the informational usefulness of collections comprising state-specific descriptions of institutions, procedures, and practices that conduce to judicial independence. See eg Sajó (n 6), Burbank and Friedman (n 15), Russell (n 24), Dodek and Sossin (n 33), Ginsburg (n 35). Our claim is simply that our approach will prove more useful in evaluating the ‘on the ground’ success of law reform projects aimed at promoting judicial independence in individual states.

50  See Tom Ginsburg, Judicial Review in New Democracies: Constitutional Courts in Asian Cases (2003), 23.

51  Ibid 25.

52  Ginsburg applies the theory in passing to the early history of the United States, to post-independence India, to post-war Japan, to post-Communist Hungary and to Russia after Yeltsin, ibid ch 4. The remainder of his book focuses on Taiwan, Korea, and Mongolia.

53  Ibid 57–8. For a detailed examination see Ran Hirschl, ‘The Political Origins of Judicial Empowerment through Constitutionalization: Lessons from Israel’s Constitutional Revolution’ (2001) 33 Comparative Politics 315.

54  Finkel (n 36), 31–3. In Peru, constitutional reform also required ratification by referendum, which had the similar effect of ensuring opposition input into the process: Finkel (n 36), 68–9.

55  Finkel (n 36), 71–9. Measures to undermine the independence of the judiciary, included delaying appointments of tenured judges, imposing super-majority requirements on the constitutional court in cases of judicial review of government action, and the creation of an executive oversight commission with the power to disband courts, to transfer judges out of politically significant postings, and to investigate judicial corruption.

56  Landes and Posner (n 36), 878. Landes and Posner provide a variation on general theories about constitutional pre-commitment. For a general treatment, examining the facilitative and constraining aspects of constitutional pre-commitment, see Cass Sunstein, ‘Constitutionalism and Secession’ (1991) 58 University of Chicago Law Review 633, 636–43.

57  See J. Mark Ramseyer, ‘The Puzzling (In)dependence of Courts: A Comparative Approach’ (1994) 23 Journal of Legal Studies 721. The theory has been applied to US state courts by F. Andrew Hanssen, ‘Is There a Politically Optimal Level of Judicial Independence?’ (2004) 94 American Economic Review 712 and to various other jurisdictions by John Ferejohn et al, ‘Comparative Judicial Politics’ in Charles Boix and Susan C. Stokes (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics (2007), 727.

58  See Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer, ‘Legal Origins’ (2002) 117 Quarterly Journal of Economics 1193. See further Chapter 10.

59  See La Porta et al (n 9), 451–2.

60  Gretchen Helmke and Frances Rosenbluth, ‘Regimes and the Rule of Law: Judicial Independence in Comparative Perspective’ (2009) 12 Annual Review of Political Science 345, 347–8.

61  See eg Graig R. Avino, ‘China’s Judiciary: An Instrument of Democratic Change?’ (2003–04) 22 Penn State International Law Review 369, 369. See also Jean Pierre Cabestan, ‘The Political and Practical Obstacles to the Reform of the Judiciary and the Establishment of the Rule of Law in China’ (2005) 10 Journal of Chinese Political Science 43, 44, 49–50. Cabestan notes that the demand for an independent judiciary is also driven by the domestic demands of an increasingly sophisticated and complex economic system which requires reliable dispute settlement institutions. Ibid 48–9.

62  See Randall Peerenboom, ‘Judicial Independence in China: Common Myths and Unfounded Assumptions’ in Randall Peerenboom (ed), Judicial Independence in China: Lessons for Global Rule of Law Promotion (2010), 69, 88–9.

63  Cabestan (n 61), 47 describes

a growing gap and a gradual disconnection between the most repressive and political aspects of Chinese law, in other words the Soviet (and imperial) legacy, on the one hand and the more modern, outward looking and Western inspired areas of this legal system on the other.

64  Peerenboom (n 62), 79.

65  Moustafa and Ginsburg argue that entrenched authoritarian regimes are more likely to create and support an independent judiciary than are those with a less secure position. The authors claim that secure regimes have greater latitude (1) to experiment with institutions, such as courts, that create conditions for long-term economic growth and set the foundations for complex administrative structures, and (2) to shift from a legitimating discourse that focuses on substantive outcomes to one that focuses on the rule of law. See Moustafa and Ginsburg (n 35), 11–12. For a fascinating variation on this literature, which focuses on the protections afforded the judiciary in the Indian subcontinent during states of emergency, see Anil Kalhan, ‘Constitution and “Extraconstitution”: Colonial Emergency Regimes in Postcolonial India and Pakistan’ in Victor V. Ramraj and Arun K. Thiruvengadam, Emergency Powers in Asia: Exploring the Limits of Legality (2010), 89.

66  Moustafa and Ginsburg (n 35), 15.

67  Ibid 17.

68  Ibid 19–20.

69  Beatriz Magaloni, ‘Enforcing the Autocratic Political Order and the Role of Courts: The Case of Mexico’ in Moustafa and Ginsburg (n 35), 180 at 181.

70  Ibid.

71  Avino (n 61), 370–5.

72  Ibid 379–91.

73  Peerenboom (n 62) and accompanying text.

74  Tom Ginsburg, ‘Constitutional Courts in New Democracies: Understanding Variation in East Asia’ (2002) 2 Global Jurist Advances 1, 1–2, 19.

75  Ibid 3.

76  Ibid 24.

77  Daniel J. Beers, ‘A Tale of Two Transitions: Exploring the Origins of Post-Communist Judicial Culture in Romania and the Czech Republic’ (2010) 18 Demokratizatsiya: Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization 28, 31.

78  Ibid 35. Among the formal institutional safeguards were:

an independent self-governing council of judges (the Superior Council of Magistracy), one of the most well-developed and well-funded judicial training institutes in the region (the National Institute of Magistracy), and a strict system of exam-based hiring and promotion.

79  Ibid 31–4.

80  Rachel Sieder, ‘Renegotiating “Law and Order”: Judicial Reform and Citizen Responses in Post-war Guatemala’ in Gloppen et al (n 29), 137.

81  Ibid 145:

Multiple donors were involved in justice reform, including the World Bank, the IDP, USAID, the UNDP, MINUGA, the Organization of American States (OAS), the US Department of Justice, the European Union and numerous bilateral donors.

82  Ibid 152.

83  Rodrigo Uprimny, ‘The Constitutional Court and Control of Presidential Extraordinary Powers in Colombia’ in Gloppen et al (n 29), 46 at 61–3.

84  Ibid 61. For a series of empirical studies concluding that informal factors (including the confidence of citizens in the legal system) are a more significant influence than formal institutions on the extent to which a judiciary enjoys independence in fact, see Erik Jensen and Thomas Heller (eds), Beyond Common Knowledge (2003).

85  Compare Charles H. Koch Jr, ‘The Advantages of the Civil Law Judicial Design as the Model for Emerging Legal Systems’ (2004) 11 Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 139 with Helmke and Rosenbluth (n 60) (disputing that legal tradition is a significant factor in determining degrees of judicial independence).

86  Koch (n 85), 142. Of course, in speaking of ‘the civil law tradition’, one necessarily generalizes. Eg although there are family resemblances, there are important differences between the German and the Latin West European judicial systems, and there are, moreover, differences among the various countries in the latter category. For overviews, see Donald P. Kommers, ‘Autonomy versus Accountability: The German Judiciary’ and Carlo Guarnieri, ‘Judicial Independence in Latin Countries of Western Europe’ in Russell and O’Brien (n 24), 131 and 111 respectively.

87  Koch (n 85), 144.

88  Ibid 145.

89  Ibid 148–9.

90  J. Mark Ramseyer and Eric B. Rasmusen, ‘Judicial Independence in a Civil Law Regime’ (1997) 13 Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 259, 265.

91  Ramseyer and Rasmusen (n 17), 341.

92  See also David M. O’Brien and Yasuo Ohkoshi, ‘The Japanese Judiciary’ in Russell and O’Brien (n 24), 37, 48, noting the salary differentials between judges who are favored and disfavored by the Secretariat and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

93  Nuno Garoupa and Tom Ginsburg, ‘The Comparative Law and Economics of Judicial Councils’ (2009) 27 Berkeley Journal of International Law 53.

94  See eg Glaeser and Shleifer (n 58).

95  Ibid 1216.

96  Ibid 1212.

97  Gillian K. Hadfield, ‘The Levers of Legal Design: Institutional Determinants of the Quality of Law’ (2008) 36 Journal of Comparative Economics 43, 44.

98  Ibid and citations therein.

99  That review can be ex ante, ex post, or both. See Ginsburg (n 50), 38–9.

100  Alec Stone Sweet, The Birth of Judicial Politics in France: The Constitutional Council in Comparative Perspective (1992), 240.

101  The standard institutional features relate to the following four elements: neutral appointment, security of tenure, financial independence, and administrative autonomy (including court administration, training, discipline, promotion, and conditions of retirement). For a comprehensive discussion see Russell (n 24); see also Reference re Remuneration of Provincial Court Judges (n 3).

102  Lydia Brashear Tiede, ‘Judicial Independence: Often Cited, Rarely Understood’ (2006) 15 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 129, 136.

103  Pimentel (n 32), 20.

104  Ibid 23. The idea of integrity is usually deployed to capture a judge’s commitment to craft: respect for precedent, fidelity to established principles of statutory interpretation, and strict adherence to the norm of impartiality. For a multi-jurisdictional conspectus of integrity, see Sajó (n 6).

105  See Solum (n 31) and Macdonald (n 25), 61–70, who identify sobriety, wisdom, courage, modesty, and resisting the temptation to right all wrongs regardless of formal jurisdiction to do so as central elements of judicial phroenesis.

106  Tiede (n 102), 150–1. See also, McNollgast, ‘Conditions for Judicial Independence’ (2006) 15 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 105, 109–10.

107  Ibid 110. In one version of this strategic interaction literature, the US Supreme Court is understood to be a principal and lower courts and administrative actors its agents.

108  See Michael Dorf, ‘Whose Ox is Being Gored? When Attitudinalism Meets Federalism’ (2007) 21 St John’s Journal of Legal Commentary 497, 518–19.

109  See the overview of this literature, as applied to the Latin American context, in Larkins (n 22), 616–18. A related literature set examines the extent to which judges rule against the party that appointed them. See eg Lee Epstein and Jeffrey A. Segal, Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments (2005), 121–41; James Stribopolous and Moin Yahya, ‘Does A Judge’s Party of Appointment or Gender Matter to Case Outcomes?: An Empirical Study of the Court of Appeal for Ontario’ (2007) 45 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 315.

110  Gretchen Helmke, Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals and Presidents in Argentina (2005), 12, summarizing the work of Ferejohn (n 47).

111  Helmke (n 110), 155.

112  Mitchell N. Berman, ‘Constitutional Decision Rules’ (2004) 90 Virginia Law Review 1, 3.

113  The claim that legal reasoning is not coextensive with political or moral reasoning is standard in the decision rules literature: see Richard H. Fallon Jr, Implementing the Constitution (2001), 26–36; Kermit Roosevelt III, The Myth of Judicial Activism (2006), 22–36; Lawrence G. Sager, Justice in Plainclothes: A Theory of American Constitutional Practice (2004).

114  For a consideration of credibility costs, see Jesse H. Choper, Judicial Review and the National Political Process: A Functional Reconsideration of the Role of the Supreme Court (1980), 201–2, 258.

115  Theunis Roux, ‘Legitimating Transformation: Political Resource Allocation in the South African Constitutional Court’ in Gloppen et al (n 29), 92.

116  Governor of the Republic of South Africa v Grootboom (CCT11/00) [2000] ZACC 19.

117  Roux (n 115).

118  Ibid 94–5.

119  Shapiro (n 16); Kojève (n 16).

120  This list is taken from Macdonald (n 25).