Court of public opinion: Government accountability and judicial independence

  • Stephenson M
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Using a simple model of policy making in a system characterized by
formal separation of powers, judicial dependence on government support,
asymmetric information between voters and the government, and political
accountability of the policy branch, I show conditions under which
rational voters force the government to cede power over legislative
decisions to the courts. Specifically, the public uses its ability
to hold the elected branches of government accountable to enforce
a judicial veto when judicial opposition to legislation provides
more reliable information to voters than government support for legislation
does. The model thus provides a theoretical justification for, and
suggests important limits to, the common assumption that disregard
for judicial decisions is politically costly for elected politicians.
The model also demonstrates how other observed patterns in judicial
politics---including judicial rubber-stamping of government decisions
and government "passing the buck" to courts---can arise as equilibria
in the same simple framework.

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  • Matthew C. Stephenson

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