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Presidential Control of High Courts in Latin America: A Long-term View (1904-2006)

  • Biology
  • Law
  • Political Science


In many Latin American countries the executive branch manipulates the composition of the Supreme Court, and judicial independence has remained elusive. Because high courts can exercise judicial review and influence lower courts, incoming presidents often force the resignation of adversarial justices or “pack” the courts with friends. One indicator of this problem has been the high turnover among members of the high courts. In this paper we offer systematic evidence to compare this problem across countries and to place this issue in historical perspective. Our analysis covers 11 Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay) between 1904 and 2006. We model the entrance of new justices to the Supreme Court as a function of “natural” (legal and biological) factors, political conditions empowering the president to reshuffle the Court, and institutional incentives promoting executive encroachment on the judiciary.

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