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Judges without Robes and Judicial Voting in Contexts of Institutional Instability: The Case of Ecuador's Constitutional Court, 1999–2007

  • SANTIAGO BASABE-SERRANO
Abstract

This article develops and utilises an ideal point index of judges to explain why they may cast conviction-based votes in contexts of institutional instability. In it, I modify the classic argument that an increase in institutional instability causes a commensurate increase in the likelihood of strategic voting. By instead proposing a curvilinear relationship between these two variables, the article proposes that, irrespective of the term length of the judges, an increase in institutional instability increases the probability of strategic voting only to a given point, after which, paradoxically, a greater degree of job uncertainty tends to favour conviction voting. This scenario provides incentives for the emergence of ‘judges without robes’: attorneys who accept appointments as judges for a limited time, and who use the judicial arena to improve their personal prestige and portfolio of clients who will return to them for future consultation.

El presente artículo desarrolla y utiliza un índice de ubicación ideológica de jueces para explicar por qué ellos pueden ejercer votos basados en convicciones en contextos de inestabilidad institucional. En esencia, el artículo modifica el argumento clásico de que un incremento en la inestabilidad institucional provoca un consiguiente incremento en la posibilidad de una votación estratégica, al proponer una relación más bien curvilínea entre estas dos variables. Así, el artículo propone que, independientemente al plazo de designación de los jueces, un incremento en la inestabilidad institucional incrementa la probabilidad de una votación estratégica sólo hasta cierto punto, luego del cual, paradójicamente, un mayor nivel de incertidumbre laboral tenderá a favorecer un voto de convicción. Este escenario provee incentivos para la emergencia de ‘jueces sin toga’: abogados que aceptan plazas como jueces por un tiempo limitado, y que utilizan la arena judicial para mejorar su prestigio personal y su portafolio de clientes, a quienes volverán a asesorar en el futuro.

Este artigo desenvolve e utiliza um indice de ubicação ideologica de juízes para explicar por quê poderão votar com base em sua convicção em contextos de instabilidade institucional. Nele, modifico o argumento clássico de que o aumento de instabilidade institucional provoca crescimento proporcional da probabilidade de voto estratégico. Ao invés de propor uma relação curvilínea entre estas duas variáveis, o artigo propõe que independente da duração dos mandatos dos juízes, um aumento da instabilidade institucional proporciona aumento da probabilidade de voto estratégico apenas até um dado ponto, a partir do qual, paradoxalmente, um maior nível de incerteza no trabalho tende a favorecer votos por convicção. Este cenário incentiva a emergência de ‘juízes sem toga’: advogados que aceitam o cargo de juiz por um tempo limitado e que usam a arena judicial para elevar seu prestígio pessoal e portfolio de clientes que retornarão para consultas no futuro.

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1 Scott Mainwaring, Daniel Brinks and Aníbal Pérez-Liñan, ‘Classifying Political Regimes in Latin America, 1945–2004’, in Gerardo L. Munck (ed.), Regimes and Democracy in Latin America: Theories and Methods (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 123–60.

2 Verner, Joel G., ‘The Independence of Supreme Courts in Latin America’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 16: 2 (1984), pp. 463506.

3 ‘Conviction voting’ is similar to ‘sincere voting’ in the US parlance.

4 Malleson, Kate and Russell, Peter H. (eds.), Appointing Judges in an Age of Judicial Power: Critical Perspectives from Around the World (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2006); Russell, Peter H. and O'Brien, David M. (eds.), Judicial Independence in the Age of Democracy: Critical Perspectives from Around the World (London: University of Virginia Press, 2001).

5 Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal and Castagnola, Andrea, ‘Presidential Control of High Courts in Latin America: A Long-Term View (1904–2006)’, Journal of Politics in Latin America, 1: 2 (2009), pp. 87114; Navia, Patricio and Ríos-Figueroa, Julio, ‘The Constitutional Adjudication Mosaic in Latin America’, Comparative Political Studies, 38: 2 (2005), pp. 189217; Druscilla Scribner, ‘Limiting Presidential Power: Supreme Court–Executive Relations in Argentina and Chile’, unpubl. PhD diss., University of California, San Diego, 2004.

6 Kapiszewski, Diana and Taylor, Matthew M., ‘Doing Courts Justice? Studying Judicial Politics in Latin America’, Perspectives on Politics, 6: 4 (2008), pp. 741–67, provides an extensive analysis of the literature on Latin American judicial politics. On Central America, see Castagnola, Andrea, ‘A Long History of the Political Manipulation of the Supreme Courts in Central America and the Caribbean, 1900–2009’, Working Paper no. 24 (Mexico City: Centro de Estudios y Programas Interamericanos, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, 2010); and on Ecuador, see Grijalva, Agustín, Courts and Political Parties: The Politics of Constitutional Review in Ecuador (Saarbrucken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2010). An analysis of different stages of the Peruvian Constitutional Court is developed by Dargent, Eduardo, ‘Determinants of Judicial Independence: Lessons from Three “Cases” of Constitutional Courts in Peru (1982–2007)’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 41: 2 (2009), pp. 251–78. Literature on the Colombian case is predominantly qualitative – see, for example, Rodrigo Uprimny, ‘The Constitutional Court and the Control of Presidential Extraordinary Powers in Colombia’, in Siri Gloppen, Robert Gargarella and Elin Skaar (eds.), Democratization and Judiciary: The Accountability Function of Courts in New Democracies (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2004), pp. 33–50; and Manuel J. Cepeda Espinosa, ‘The Judicialization of Politics in Colombia: The Old and The New’, in Rachel Sieder, Line Schjolden and Alan Angell (eds.), The Judicialization of Politics in Latin America (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 67–104. See also César A. Rodríguez, Rodrigo Uprimny and Mauricio García-Villegas, ‘Justice and Society in Colombia: A Sociological Analysis of Colombian Courts’, in Lawrence Friedman and Rogelio Pérez Perdomo (eds.), Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 134–83.

7 Farquharson, Robin, Theory of Voting (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969).

8 Epstein, Lee and Knight, Jack, The Choice Justices Make (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1998).

9 Segal, Jeffrey A. and Spaeth, Harold J., The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

10 Brigham, John, Constitutional Language: An Interpretation of Judicial Decisions (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978); Ackerman, Bruce, We the People, vol. 1: Foundations (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Markovitz, Richard S., Matters of Principle: Legitimate Legal Argument and Constitutional Interpretation (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

11 Epstein and Knight, The Choice Justices Make; Maltzman, Forrest, Spriggs, James F. and Wahlbeck, Paul J., Crafting Law on the Supreme Court: The Collegial Game (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

12 Epstein, Lee, Knight, Jack and Shvetsova, Olga, ‘The Supreme Court as a Strategic National Policymaker’, Emory Law Journal, 50: 1 (2001), pp. 583612.

13 I would like to thank Gretchen Helmke for pointing this out.

14 Helmke, Gretchen, ‘The Logic of Strategic Defection: Court–Executive Relations in Argentina under Dictatorship and Democracy’, American Political Science Review, 46: 2 (2002), pp. 291302; and Courts Under Constraints: Courts, Generals and Presidents in Argentina (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

15 Iaryczower, Matías, Spiller, Pablo and Tommasi, Mariano, ‘Judicial Independence in Unstable Environments: Argentina 1935–1998’, American Journal of Political Science, 46: 4, pp. 699716.

16 Chávez, Rebecca Bill, ‘The Construction of the Rule of Law in Argentina: A Tale of Two Provinces’, Comparative Politics, 35: 4 (2003), pp. 417–37; and The Rule of Law in Nascent Democracies: Judicial Politics in Argentina (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004).

17 See Staton, Jeffrey K., Judicial Power and Strategic Communication in Mexico (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). See also Vanberg, Georg, The Politics of Constitutional Review in Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Legislative-Judicial Relations: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Constitutional Review’, American Journal of Political Science, 45: 2 (2001), pp. 346–61; and Establishing Judicial Independence in West Germany: The Impact of Opinion Leadership and the Separation of Powers’, Comparative Politics, 32: 3 (2000), pp. 333–53.

18 Pérez-Liñan and Castagnola, ‘Presidential Control of High Courts in Latin America’.

19 In the Argentine case, citizen dissatisfaction with judges has been higher than 90 per cent. See Helmke, Courts Under Constraints, p. 51.

20 Schjolden, Sieder and Angell, The Judicialization of Politics in Latin America; Jorge Correa Sutil, ‘The Judiciary and the Political System in Chile: The Dilemmas of Judicial Independence during the Transition to Democracy’, in Irving P. Stotsky (ed.), Transition to Democracy in Latin America: The Role of the Judiciary (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), pp. 89–106; Hilbink, Lisa, Judges beyond Politics in Democracy and Dictatorship: Lessons from Chile (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Prillaman, William C., The Judiciary and Democratic Decay in Latin America: Declining Confidence in the Rule of Law (New York: Praeger Press, 2000); Barros, Robert, Constitutionalism and Dictatorship: Pinochet, the Junta, and the 1980 Constitution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Brinks, Daniel M., The Judiciary Response to Police Killings in Latin America: Inequality and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

21 Beatriz Magaloni and Arianna Sánchez, ‘Empowering Courts as Constitutional Veto Players: Presidential Delegation and the New Mexican Supreme Court’, paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA, 2001; Julio Ríos-Figueroa, ‘The Emergence of an Effective Judiciary: Fragmentation of Power and Judicial Decision-Making Evidence from the Mexican Supreme Court, 1994–2002’, unpubl. PhD diss., New York University, 2003.

22 From a different theoretical perspective, Helmke has proposed an equilibrium, which she calls judicial dependence, in which a similar situation occurs. Unfortunately, this model is not part of her empirical test. See Helmke, Courts Under Constraints.

23 Simón Pachano, ‘Partidos y sistema de partidos en Ecuador’, in Rafael Roncagliolo and Carlos Meléndez (eds.), La política por dentro: cambios y continuidades en las organizaciones políticas de los países andinos (Lima: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2007), pp. 161–211; Pérez-Liñan, Aníbal, Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Acosta, Andrés Mejía, Informal Coalitions and Policymaking in Latin America: Ecuador in Comparative Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2009).

24 Jorge Correa Sutil, ‘Reformas judiciales en América Latina: ¿buenas noticias para los desfavorecidos?’, in Juan E. Méndez, Guillermo O'Donnell and Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (eds.), La (in)efectividad de la ley y la exclusión en América Latina (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2002), pp. 257–78.

25 Ríos-Figueroa, Julio and Taylor, Matthew M., ‘Institutional Determinants of the Judicialization of Policy in Brazil and Mexico’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 38: 4 (2006), pp. 739–66; Basabe-Serrano, Santiago, ‘Estabilidad política y jugadores de veto judicial: un modelo espacial aplicado a cortes constitucionales’, Revista OPERA, 9 (2009), pp. 121–34.

26 Registro Oficial no. 863, 16 Jan. 1996.

27 Santiago Basabe-Serrano, ‘El nuevo institucionalismo en ciencia política: perspectivas, enfoques y campos de acción’, in Santiago Basabe-Serrano (ed.), Instituciones e institucionalismo en América Latina: perspectivas teóricas y enfoques disciplinarios (Quito: Centro de Investigaciones de Política y Economía, 2007), pp. 195–8.

28 According to Ecuadorean law, the Constitutional Court is not part of the judicial branch. However, in this paper I have used the term ‘judicial posts’ to refer to the nine seats on its bench.

29 The other two sets of appointees to the Constitutional Court analysed here held office between March 2003 and November 2004 (20 months) and between March 2006 and April 2007 (13 months).

30 El Comercio, 21 Jan. 2003.

31 El Comercio, 2 Feb. 2003.

32 El Comercio, 30 Jan. 2003; and El Universo, 21 March 2003.

33 El Comercio, 22 March 2003.

34 The DP, MPD, Socialist Party, PRIAN and some independent deputies also formed part of the legislative agreements.

35 While the former president enjoyed political asylum in Panama, he faced criminal charges in Ecuador that would potentially carry a prison sentence.

36 The legislative resolution to impeach President Gutiérrez proposed on 9 November 2004 received the support of only 48 deputies and did not pass. Details of this legislative debate can be found in Act no. 24-310 for said date. In the agreement reached by the PRE and other political organisations were the restructuring of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Electoral Court.

37 El Universo, 25 Nov. 2004.

38 On the same day, 20 April 2005, PRE deputy Omar Quintana Baquerizo was voted out as president of Congress. See Legislative Act no. 25-047-A of this date.

39 The new majority was made up of deputies from the PSC, ID, PCK and DP, and some independent deputies previously close to Gutiérrez. See El Universo, 26 April 2005. The impeachment of the Constitutional Court judges is recorded in Legislative Act no. 25-049 of 26 April 2005.

40 El Universo, 26 April 2005.

41 Ibid.

42 Congress ceased the functioning of Supreme Court justices on 17 April 2005. See Legislative Act no. 25-045 of this date.

43 El Comercio, 28 Nov. 2005.

44 Legislative Act no. 25-204 of 22 Feb. 2006.

45 In Ecuador, as in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, there is a division of labour between the Supreme Court, which acts as the highest tier of the ordinary justice system, and the Constitutional Court, whose main legal attribute is the power of constitutional decision-making.

46 Basabe-Serrano, Santiago, Pachano, Simón and Acosta, Andrés Mejía, ‘La democracia inconclusa: derechos fundamentales, instituciones políticas y rendimientos gubernamentales en Ecuador (1979–2008)’, Revista de Ciencia Política, 30: 1 (2010), pp. 6585; Basabe-Serrano, Santiago, ‘Ecuador: reforma constitucional, nuevos actores políticos y viejas prácticas partidistas’, Revista de Ciencia Política, 29: 2 (2009), pp. 381406.

47 El Universo, 1 March 2007.

48 Legislative Act no. 26-031 of 6 March 2007.

49 El Comercio, 8 March 2007.

50 After the replacement deputies took their positions, the media captured images of a meeting in the town of Puembo in which many of them, and representatives of the executive, outlined an agreement in which the deputies would support the government in exchange for public jobs, power and other goods. The name comes from the fact that as they left the meeting, the legislators tried to dodge the press by covering their faces with tablecloths.

51 El Universo, 24 April 2007.

52 El Comercio, 25 April 2007. The impeachment is found in Legislative Act no. 26-040 of 24 April 2007. The motion was presented by Deputy Silvia Salgado (PS-FA) and received the support of 52 legislators.

53 El Universo, 25 April 2007.

54 In general, the absences and votes from substitute judges are exceptional, indicating that the corresponding values are consistent.

55 This is the case for judges De la Torre, Cevallos, Ribadeneira, Burbano and Soria.

56 When an ideological self-placement scale is applied, the uniform response tends to be ‘apolitical’ and that the judge's behaviour is guided only and exclusively by the ‘literal tenor of the law’.

57 King, Gary, Keohane, Robert and Verba, Sidney, El diseño de la investigación social: la inferencia científica en los estudios cualitativos (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2000), p. 197.

58 Epstein, Lee and Mershon, Carol, ‘Measuring Political Preference’, American Journal of Political Science, 40: 1 (1996), pp. 261–94; Songer, Donald R. and Davis, Sue, ‘The Impact of Party and Region of Voting Decisions in the United States Courts of Appeals, 1955–1986’, Western Political Quarterly, 43: 2 (1990), pp. 317–34; Danelski, David, ‘Values as Variables in Judicial Decision Making: Notes toward a Theory’, Vanderbilt Law Review, 19 (1966), pp. 721–40.

59 In this regard, Gretchen Helmke has said that ‘Ideally, to evaluate the strategic account one would use an independent measure of the justices’ attitudes, for example, a liberal-conservative scale is used in the American literature … No comparable data on judicial preferences exist for developing countries’ (emphasis added): Helmke, ‘The Logic of Strategic Defection’, pp. 295–6, note 18.

60 For more information on the survey protocol, please contact the author.

61 Informant anonymity is preserved to avoid any possible recrimination.

62 The centre of the spatial distribution of political power is 5.5.

63 The optimal way of capturing judges’ ideological location would be to administer the surveys before they take office. However, the very variable level of public visibility of these actors before they take up their posts makes this exploratory research difficult.

64 The Pearson's chi-squared value (p<0.005) confirms the affinity of each judge to a specific party. An ANOVA variance analysis (p<0.005) supports the assumption that each judge has a different and unique median party location. Lastly, the results of the Levene Test (p<0.005) indicate that each judge has a unique and independent party affinity.

65 These values come from the MLRP index of Latin American political parties designed by Michael Coppedge in 1998. I would like to thank Andrés Mejía Acosta for his generosity in providing this information. I would also like to recognise Flavia Freidenberg and Cristina Rivas for their help in providing data from the 2006 PELA database.

66 I would like to thank Julio Ríos-Figueroa for his comments and suggestions on this point.

67 This information was taken from Andrés Mejía Acosta and John Polga-Hecimovich, ‘Parliamentary Solutions to Presidential Crisis in Ecuador’, in Leiv Marsteintredet and Mariana Llanos (eds.), Presidential Breakdowns in Latin America (New York: Macmillan, 2010), pp. 73–90; and Freidenberg, Flavia, ‘Izquierda vs. derecha: polarización ideológica y competencia en el sistema de partidos ecuatoriano’, Política y Gobierno, 13: 2 (2006), pp. 237–78.

68 Brace, Paul and Hall, Melinda Gann, ‘Integrated Models of Judicial Dissent’, Journal of Politics, 55: 4 (1993), pp. 914–35.

69 Grijalva, Courts and Political Parties; Taylor, Matthew M.; Judging Policy: Courts and Reform in Democratic Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

70 Grijalva, Courts and Political Parties.

71 Old Constitutional Court officials, lawyers specialising in constitutional law and political actors were considered the key interviewees. This consultation was carried out in personal interviews in some cases and through email in others.

72 Judges who served on the Constitutional Court between March 2006 and April 2007 are covered for only 18 months after their removal.

73 Of the remaining 27.27 per cent of judges with experience in private law practice, four managed to be re-elected as Constitutional Court judges, while the remaining two moved to other areas of the judicial branch.

74 Helmke, Courts Under Constraints; Iaryczower, Spiller and Tommasi, ‘Judicial Independence in Unstable Environments’.

75 Pérez-Liñan, Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability.

* I would like to thank Gretchen Helmke, Catalina Smulovitz, Julio Ríos Figueroa, Aníbal Pérez-Liñan, Andrés Mejía Acosta, Heidy Ocampo, Flavia Freidenberg, Lawrence Baum, John Polga-Hecimovich, Marcos Fabricio Pérez and the three anonymous reviewers from the JLAS for their comments and suggestions.

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