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Title: Court-executive relations in unstable democracies : strategic judicial behaviour in post-authoritarian Argentina (1983-2005)
Author: Herrero, Alvaro J.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2007
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This dissertation deals with court-executive relations in post-authoritarian Argentina (1983-2006). Specifically, I analyse Supreme Court behaviour in highly sensitive cases to determine whether the tribunal has cooperated with or obstructed the government’s policy preferences in three key policy areas: human rights, economic emergency and pensions. This innovative type of approach – i.e., focusing on a small number of highly sensitive decisions – allows me to concentrate on cases that are genuinely important for the government or, more precisely, for the country’s political administration. There are cases that are significant for the State apparatus but irrelevant for the president (thinking of politicians as self-interested actors). My research uses a rational choice approach to courts, underscoring the strategic nature of judicial behaviour. This vision of judges provides a more accurate account of judicial-executive relations by bringing politics into the study of courts. By focusing exclusively on attitudes and apolitical jurisprudence, other visions take for granted the institutional context. Political stability, for example, cannot be assumed in many developing democracies. My findings indicate that the Argentine Supreme Court has consistently avoided obstructing the president’s policy preferences. Such behaviour is motivated by strategic considerations: judges are risk-averse actors that avoid clashing with the executive. For most of the time, the Supreme Court has operated under unified government, which increases the chances of being punished for anti-government decisions. Two other factors also account for the court’s risk-averse behaviour. First, procedural rules grant the Supreme Court wide discretion over its docket. The tribunal has used such discretion to strategically select the timing of its decisions. Second, recurrent democratic breakdowns have repeatedly led to attacks against the court, such as impeachment, irregular dismissals, and/or enlargements. Third, politicians exert broad control of judicial promotions, allowing them to block the careers of independent, courageous judges that act as a check on political power.
Supervisor: Angell, Alan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Political science ; Democratic government ; Public policy ; Socio-legal studies ; Latin America ; Constitutional & administrative law ; Human rights ; Argentina ; judicial independence ; Supreme Court ; Executive branch ; Court-Executive relations ; democracy ; breakdowns ; rational choice ; judicial activism