Manipulating Courts in New Democracies. Forcing Judges off the Bench in Argentina

Project Team: Andrea Castagnola

Timeframe: 06/03/2008 - 11/23/2016

This is a solo book manuscrit published by Routledge 2018.

Abstract: When do a justice leave office? Typically, a justice with life tenure would leave office when either he dies, has health problems, reaches the age retirement, and, in those cases that justices are not appointed for life when he finishes his term. But, in developing democracies justices would more likely leave the bench because they have been forced to do so. For example, President Evo Morales from Bolivia in 4 years was able to forced the retirement of more than half of the Supreme Court justices and dismantle the Constitutional Tribunal by reducing the salary of the judges, threatening for impeachment and by publicly discrediting their decision on the media. Similar stories have taken place in many other countries like in Ecuador under President Rafael Correa and in Russia under President Yeltsin. The manipulation of court composition is a deep-rooted problem not just on “competitive” authoritarian regime but also in new democracies. Politicians want to have friendly courts because judges are relevant political actors in national politics with the capacity to frustrate the policy-making of the government. For example, in Zimbabwe President Mugabe in 2001 forced the retirement of 3 justices and packed the court to overturn the unfavorable rulings on land cases. In the case of Argentina since 1900, 63% of the justices in the Supreme Court have been forced to depart from the bench while 37% departed due to natural (or non political) reasons. So, when is the executive able to manipulate the composition of the court? And what political factors explain judicial instability on the bench? I develop a novel theory to explain forced retirements and test it in the Argentine case using original self-collected data over 100 years for the National Supreme Court and over 30 year for the 24 Provincial Supreme Courts.

Publications within this project:

  1. Castagnola, A. 2012. “I Want It All, and I Want It Now: The Political Manipulation of Argentina’s Provincial High Courts” Journal of Politics in Latin America 4 (2): 39-62.
  2. Castagnola, A. 2010. “La diversidad institucional de los Poderes Judiciales provinciales en Argentina desde una perspectiva histórica.” (A historical perspective of the institutional diversity of provincial judiciaries in Argentina) POSTData 15 (2): 161-89.
  3. Castagnola A.. 2010. Estudio Comparado de las Constituciones y Marco Normativo de las Cortes Supremas Provinciales de Argentina: 1983-2008. (Comparative study of Argentine provincial Constitutions and norms that regulate Argentine Provincial Supreme Courts: 1983-2008) Buenos Aires: Asociación por los Derechos Civiles.

Under review: a journal article