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Strategic Leadership and Political Change on the Canadian Supreme Court: Analyzing the Transition to Chief Justice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 October 2005

Matthew E. Wetstein
Affiliation:
San Joaquin Delta College
C. L. Ostberg
Affiliation:
University of the Pacific

Abstract

Abstract. This study discusses theoretical concepts from two strands of public law literature, namely rational choice accounts of strategic behaviour and notions of judicial leadership, and examines their relevance for explaining changes in judicial behaviour on the Canadian Supreme Court. Specifically, we test whether a justice who is elevated to the chief position strategically alters his/her patterns of judicial behaviour. The study uses a multiple regression equation that controls for rival hypotheses, and uncovers evidence of strategic change by all three modern chief justices. While Justices Dickson and Lamer appear to have consolidated their position as task leaders once they were promoted to the helm of the Court, Justice McLachlin made a remarkable change in her dissent behaviour to emerge as the preeminent social leader on her own Court. The study demonstrates that rational choice models of strategic behaviour and judicial leadership are useful theoretical frameworks for explaining changes in behaviour once recent Canadian justices were promoted to the chief position. Moreover, the findings illustrate the importance of incorporating critical institutional features when studying changing behaviour in other high courts around the world.

Résumé. Cette étude discute des concepts théoriques de deux composantes de la littérature du droit public, à savoir les témoignages de choix rationnel en fait de comportement stratégique et les notions de leadership judiciaire, et examine leur pertinence pour expliquer les changements de comportement judiciaire à la Cour suprême du Canada. Plus précisément, nous cherchons à déterminer si un juge qui devient juge en chef impose des changements stratégiques à son comportement judiciaire. L'étude utilise une équation de régression multiple qui neutralise les hypothèses rivales, et découvre des preuves de changement stratégique chez les trois juges en chef contemporains. Tandis que les juges Dickson et Lamer semblent avoir consolidé leur position de responsables de tâche après leur accession à la tête de la Cour, Madame le juge McLachlin transforma son comportement de dissidente pour devenir le leader social confirmé de sa propre Cour. L'étude démontre que les modèles de choix rationnel en fait de comportement stratégique et de leadership judiciaire sont des cadres théoriques utiles pour expliquer les changements de comportement des juges canadiens récemment promus à la position de juges en chef. En outre, l'étude démontre qu'il est important d'incorporer certaines caractéristiques institutionnelles clés lorsqu'on examine les changements de comportement dans d'autres tribunaux de grande instance de par le monde.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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