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Understanding Politics Speaker Series

August 2, 2016 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Presentation Title:Bending but not Breaking: Rule of Law Tensions and Regime Survival,

Paper Abstract: “Independent judges are thought to promote regime survival by allowing perceived violations of rules limiting arbitrary power to be challenged in a fair setting. Empirical evidence generally supports this claim. Yet by asking judges to hold leaders accountable, systems of constitutional review create political tensions. Judicial institutions are sometimes attacked, judges sometimes impeached, and judicial orders are sometimes ignored. These processes can undermine independence in a variety of ways. We argue that if independent courts are to encourage regime stability, they must do so by managing these conflictual political contexts. Political contexts in which judges believe that overt political attacks are probable are unlikely to support an important role of judicial independence in regime maintenance; however, judges can contribute to regime stability even in contexts in which their decisions are sometimes ignored. Non-compliance with judicial orders need not be a problem for a robust political system. Indeed, to impact regime stability, judges must be willing to risk being ignored. We evaluate empirical implications of this argument in a study of democratic and autocratic regime survival. ”

Jeff Staton is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University.

For further information please contact Emily Ritter in Political Science at