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Strategic Retirement in Comparative Perspective: Supreme Court Justices in Presidential Regimes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán*
University of Pittsburgh
Ignacio Arana Araya
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Contact the corresponding author, Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, at


Students of judicial behavior debate whether justices time their retirement to allow for the nomination of like-minded judges. We formalize the assumptions of strategic retirement theory and derive precise hypotheses about the conditions that moderate the effect of partisan incentives on judicial retirements. The empirical implications are tested with evidence for Supreme Court members under democracies and dictatorships in six presidential regimes between 1900 and 2004. The theory of strategic retirement finds limited support in the United States and elsewhere. We conclude that researchers should emphasize “sincere” motivations for retirement, progressive political ambitions, and—crucial in weakly institutionalized legal systems—political pressures.

Research Article
© 2017 by Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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Research for this project was supported by National Science Foundation grant no. 0918886 and by FONDECYT project no. 3160357. We are indebted to Christopher Bonneau, Diana Kapiszewski, and Julio Ríos Figueroa for their comments and assistance. Replication files for this article are available in the online edition.


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