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Does De Jure Judicial Independence Really Matter?

A Reevaluation of Explanations for Judicial Independence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

James Melton
University College London
Tom Ginsburg*
University of Chicago
Contact the corresponding author, Tom Ginsburg, at


The relationship between de jure and de facto judicial independence is much debated in the literature on judicial politics. Some studies find no relationship between the formal rules governing the structure of the judiciary and de facto judicial independence, while others find a tight correlation. This article sets out to reassess the relationship between de jure and de facto judicial independence using a new theory and an expanded data set. De jure institutional protections, we argue, do not work in isolation but work conjunctively, so that particular combinations of protections are more likely to be effective than others. We find that rules governing the selection and removal of judges are the only de jure protections that actually enhance judicial independence in practice and that they work conjunctively. This effect is strongest in authoritarian regimes and in contexts with checks on executive authority.

Research Article
© 2014 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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We thank Jeff Staton, Brad Epperly, two anonymous reviewers, and the editors at the Journal of Law and Courts as well as seminar participants from the 2013 Joint Sessions Workshop of the European Consortium for Political Research and the Department of Political Science, University College London, for helpful suggestions on previous versions of this manuscript. We also thank Stefan Voigt, Bernd Hayo, and Jerg Gutmann for sharing their cleaned and expanded version of the Comparative Constitutions Project’s judiciary data. Replication data are available at


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