An Agent-Based Model of Judicial Power

9 Journal of Law (6 J. Legal Metrics) (2019)

44 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2019 Last revised: 4 Dec 2019

See all articles by Alex Schwartz

Alex Schwartz

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2019


That a court possesses the formal power of judicial review is no guarantee that its decisions will be obeyed. Courts are occasionally defied, and they can also be attacked in retaliation for decisions that frustrate the goals of political elites. Using a method of computer simulation called agent-based modelling, this article explores how new constitutional or supreme courts can act strategically to build their power while mitigating the risk of retaliation by the political branches. The simulations suggest that a court that avoids challenging the preferred policies of the political branches in high salience disputes will, ultimately, tend to exert more influence on constitutional law than a court that moves to establish its power early on in landmark cases. These findings vindicate the intuition that the growth of judicial power will normally depend on “baby steps”, i.e., relatively restrained and incremental (as opposed to sudden and bold) assertions of constitutional supremacy.

Keywords: agent-based model, constitutional courts, judicial power, judicial review

Suggested Citation

Schwartz, Alex, An Agent-Based Model of Judicial Power (October 1, 2019). 9 Journal of Law (6 J. Legal Metrics) (2019), Available at SSRN:

Alex Schwartz (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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