Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Legislative Coalitions and Judicial Turnover under Political Uncertainty: The Case of Ecuador

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Legislative Coalitions and Judicial Turnover under Political Uncertainty: The Case of Ecuador

Article excerpt

Abstract

While judicial turnover in Latin American high courts is often the result of political realignments within the executive branch, the judiciary may also be sensitive to realignments in the legislative branch. The authors use data from the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court to show that under some circumstances, congressional deputies will seek to remove judges further from their own ideal points as the composition of the legislative coalition changes. This provides some of the first empirical evidence of the role legislatures play in Latin American judicial instability and may be broadly generalizable to other countries with similar institutional profiles and rates of interbranch crisis.

Keywords

judicial politics, legislative-judicial relations, Ecuador, judicial turnover

What are causes of judicial instability in Latin America's high courts? While the literature on the U.S. judiciary assumes that it is the justices themselves who determine when they retire from the bench (Hagle 1993; Zorn and Van Winkle 2000; Epstein and Segal 2005), this is not often true in Latin America (Verner 1984; Rosenn 1987). As Pérez-Liñán and Castagnola (2009) show, judicial turnover in Latin America is frequently manifested as removal by the executive branch under the cloak of partisanship. But what about political contexts where the executive must rely on the legislature to govern? Under what conditions may the legislature also play an antagonistic role in these interbranch relations? And what triggers the removal of judges in a context where the partisan composition of the legislative branch does not change?

To solve these research questions, we make two general arguments. First, while judicial turnover is often the result of political realignments within the executive branch, realignments in the legislative branch may also cause turnover in contexts of legislative dominance. Second, turnover in institutionally volatile contexts is determined by ideology and partisanship-unlike the United States, where removal of judges is not often determined by these factors (Epstein and Segal 2005). Specifically, we argue that in environments of political uncertainty, all else being equal, an increase in the ideological distance between the government and individual judges decreases the likelihood of judicial survival. We test these conjectures using data from the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional, TC) and political party ideological scores between 1999 and 2007. The frequent changes in executive office and legislative coalitions during this time provide a high amount of variation on our chief independent variable (ideology of mean government coalition member) while holding constant the actual partisan composition of the congress, while the nearly four wholesale changes in the TC provide variation on our dependent variable (judicial turnover).

The second part of the article reviews the literature on judicial turnover, followed by a description of removal and instability in the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court since 1999, a representative case in Latin American judicial politics. Then, we present a theoretical framework that establishes causal linkages and some testable hypotheses. In the fourth part, we describe our data and methodology, focusing on the operationalization of ideology scores for justices and for political parties. In the fifth part, we analyze our findings and then conclude with some suggestions for the development of future research agendas in the subfields of judicial politics and legislative studies as well as the broader area of democratic regime accountability.

Judicial Turnover in the Literature

U.S. scholarship on judicial turnover focuses on judges who voluntarily leave office, although there is no general consensus on the causal factors of judicial exit. For some, the ideological difference between judges and the president is the decisive variable (Barrow and Zuk 1990; Zorn and Van Winkle 2000; Ward 2003; Calabresi and Lindgren 2006). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.