Book Project


This book explores the relationship between the chronic dependence of the judiciary on political elites in Latin America, and their negative effect on the consolidation of democratic rule in the region. The existence of quid-pro-quo connections between judges and prominent political actors prevent courts from exercising their accountability prerogatives efficiently against their political bosses, or resisting attempts by external actors to employ the judiciary to circumvent the limits and conditions imposed by democratic institutions. This negatively affects the judiciary‟s ability to become influential and assertive in the political arena, impairing or minimizing the beneficial effect of changes directed to empower the judiciary – including institutional reform, the designation of liberal-minded judges, or even ongoing pressure coming from civil society to achieve political change through the courts. I explore these propositions evaluating judicial decision-making at the Supreme Court level in three countries with different experiences with democratic rule. The core of the analysis focuses on Venezuela, one of the most prominent cases of democratic deterioration in the hemisphere in recent times. I offer an empirically-grounded, systematic account of the effects of judicial loyalties vis-à-vis political elites on the Supreme Court‟s ability to exercise its most important prerogatives, especially constitutional review, during the deterioration of Venezuela‟s AD-COPEI democracy; and also show how these informal linkages were rearranged and chronically persisted after the arrival of Hugo Chávez in power in 1999, negatively affecting the court‟s ability to uphold the rule of law. In Paraguay, I examine the opposite trajectory – how Supreme Court justices appointed on the basis of political loyalties in a growingly democratic country are incapable to protect democratic rule, and are frequently used by political elites to legitimize actions at odds with constitutional and legal tenets. Lastly, an assessment of the Costa Rican case shows how a combination of formal and informal institutions makes the existence and use of solid quid-pro-quo connections with the judiciary less likely, allowing the Court more latitude to exercise its prerogatives vis-à-vis political actors, and contributing to the emergence of the Costa Rican Supreme Court as one of the most powerful institutions in the nation. Thus, the book provides valuable lessons regarding the connection between the rule of law and democratic consolidation in new democracies.

Currently in progress, this book is partly based in my Ph.D. Dissertation ‘Judges and their Loyalties:  A Comparative Study Focused on the Venezuelan Supreme Court’ (Department of Political Science, University of South Carolina)