LEGS Seminar

Jessica Flanigan, Politics PhD candidate

Electoral Vulnerability and Judicial Independence

December 3, 2007, 4:30 - 6:00 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall

Jessica Flanigan is a PhD candidate in the Politics department. Her research focuses on formal and normative theories of decision-making and political institutions. She is currently developing her prospectus which combines insights from moral psychology with decision theory to understand how political institutions might constitute collective agents. Her recent work has focused on public reason and the normative status of judicial institutions.

For more on Jessica, see her LAPA page.

Paper Abstract

I argue that judicial independence is maintained based on electoral incentives within a legislature. Judicial independence consists of maintaining a bipartisan judiciary with a stable composition and allowing a wide range of judicial discretion to that judiciary. In circumstances of electoral vulnerability (when the probability of reelection is close to 50%) a policy motivated legislature may appoint a judiciary that does not perfectly align with its policy preferences.

A partisan legislature adopt a strategy that supports the maintenance of an independent judiciary when it is electorally vulnerable. By contrast, a partisan legislature that is secure in its long term dominance will stack the judiciary with partisans and will not cooperate with the other party to secure against the risk of loosing the legislature. I conclude that as the probability of reelection approaches 50% the legislature becomes more likely to nominate an independent judiciary. Asymmetrically beneficial nominations strategies can still entail sustainable judicial independence. The range of sustainable independent judiciaries increases as partisans increasingly care about their long term policy agenda. I examine the range situations when both parties have incentives to maintain an independent judiciary rather than stacking it with partisans.