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Testing the Effects of Independent Judiciaries on the Likelihood of Democratic Backsliding


  • We thank Joe Walsh for his research assistance. Gibler would like to thank the HF Guggenheim Foundation for fellowship funding during the writing of this article. Replication files and an online appendix with additional analyses can be found at

Douglas M. Gibler is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Alabama, Box 870213, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 ( Kirk A. Randazzo is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of South Carolina, 329 Gambrell Hall, Columbia, SC 29208 (


We test the efficacy of judicial independence in preventing regime reversals toward authoritarianism. Using a dataset of judicial constraints across 163 different countries from 1960 to 2000, we find that established independent judiciaries prevent regime changes toward authoritarianism across all types of states. Established courts are also capable of thwarting regime collapses in nondemocracies. These results provide some of the first large-n evidence confirming the ability of the judiciary to maintain regime stability. Unfortunately, however, the beneficial effects of court systems seem to take time to develop. The evidence indicates that newly formed courts are positively associated with regime collapses in both democracies and nondemocracies.