Economic Governance on Trial: High Courts and Elected Leaders in Argentina and Brazil

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ABSTRACT

Beginning in the 1980s, social and political actors across Latin America turned to courts in unprecedented numbers to contest economic policies. Very different patterns of high court–elected branch interaction over economic governance emerged across the region, with crucial implications for economic development, democratic governance, and the rule of law. Building on both institutional and strategic accounts of judicial politics, this article argues that high court “character,” a relatively stable congeries of informal institutional features, channels interbranch struggles into persistent patterns. Two case studies illustrate the argument. In Argentina, the high court's political character encouraged a pattern of court submission to elected leaders marked by periodic bouts of interbranch confrontation over economic governance. In Brazil, the high court's statesmanlike character induced interbranch accommodation. This study demonstrates that even in politically unstable settings, institutional features can shape law and politics.

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