Compliance: Conceptualizing and Theorizing Public Authorities' Adherence to Judicial Rulings

51 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 20 Aug 2010

See all articles by Matthew M. Taylor

Matthew M. Taylor

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Diana Kapiszewski

Georgetown University

Date Written: 2010


Scholars of comparative judicial politics have sought to explain judicial decision-making from a number of perspectives, highlighting the causal import of judges’ and plaintiffs’ preferences, formal and informal institutional structures, judges’ strategic considerations, and law and legal doctrine. This paper seeks to turn theoretical attention to an equally important phenomenon: compliance with judicial decisions, especially by government authorities. To what extent do elected leaders follow judges’ dictates, and what causes variation in their compliance?

The question of whether and how elected leaders respond to judicial decisions is empirically important and theoretically compelling. Compliance with courts’ dictates is central to legality and constitutionality, may influence economic development and democratic stability, and can have powerful feedback effects on judicial decision-making. Examining when and why elected leaders comply with judicial rulings, and how judges take compliance into account when designing their rulings, will help us better comprehend judicial behavior, judicial power, inter-branch relations, and ultimately, the underpinnings of the rule of law.

This paper proceeds in four sections. We begin by discussing how compliance has been defined in various literatures, and distinguishing it from other elected branch reactions to judicial rulings. Second, we use three exemplars to introduce some of the most important dimensions of compliance. In the paper’s third and fourth sections, we offer a framework for studying public authorities’ compliance with judicial rulings. That framework includes both descriptive and explanatory dimensions; we illustrate the latter through a discussion of the major theories of compliance that have been advanced in the literature.

Suggested Citation

Taylor, Matthew M. and Kapiszewski, Diana, Compliance: Conceptualizing and Theorizing Public Authorities' Adherence to Judicial Rulings (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Matthew M. Taylor (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Diana Kapiszewski

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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