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The Limits of Judicial Independence: A Model with Illustration from Venezuela under Chávez


This paper presents a heuristic model of judicial independence that illustrates how it is that changes in de facto judicial independence may occur, even in the absence of overt institutional changes in de jure protections. The model is illustrated by the marked decline in the independence of Venezuela's high court between 1998 and 2010, under President Hugo Chávez. Focusing on the trade-off that courts face between jurisprudential change and policy change, the paper demonstrates how courts – even those that closely mirror the executive branch's policy preferences – may enter into conflict with dominant executives, and find their judicial independence restricted by informal means.

Spanish abstract

Este artículo presenta un modelo heurístico de la independencia judicial que ilustra cómo es que cambios en la independencia judicial de facto se pueden dar, incluso ante la ausencia de cambios en las protecciones de jure. El modelo se hace evidente en el marcado declive en la independencia de la corte suprema de Venezuela entre 1998 y 2010, bajo la presidencia de Hugo Chávez. Centrándose en el equilíbrio que las cortes necesitan mantener entre el cambio jurisprudencial y el cambio político, el artículo demuestra cómo que las cortes – incluso aquellas que reflejan cercanamente las preferencias políticas de la rama ejecutiva – pueden entrar en conflicto con los ejecutivos dominantes, y encontrar restringida su independencia judicial por medios informales.

Portuguese abstract

Este artigo apresenta um modelo heurístico da independência judicial que demonstra como mudanças de facto na independência judicial podem ocorrer, mesmo sem evidentes mudanças institucionais nas proteções de jure. O modelo é ilustrado pela clara redução da independência do Supremo Tribunal venezuelano entre 1998 e 2010, durante o governo de Hugo Chávez. Tendo como foco o equilíbrio que os tribunais procuram manter, entre mudanças da jurisprudência e mudanças nas diretrizes das políticas públicas, o artigo demonstra como tribunais – até mesmo aqueles que estão próximos às preferências políticas do Executivo – podem entrar em conflito com membros dominantes do Executivo e ter sua independência judicial restringida por meios informais.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-216X
  • EISSN: 1469-767X
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies
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