Captured Courts and Legitimized Autocrats: Transforming Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court

59 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2022 Last revised: 25 Feb 2022

See all articles by Nora Webb Williams

Nora Webb Williams

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Margaret Hanson

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Politics and Global Studies; Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

Date Written: November 19, 2021

Abstract

Contemporary dictators routinely co-opt institutions crucial for democratic governance. Although an extensive literature examines why and how aspiring autocrats bring elections and parties under their control, constitutions -- and the judicial or quasi-judicial bodies charged with interpreting constitutions -- are often assumed to reflect the existing balance of power. But following regime change, constitutional courts’ power of review makes them integral for establishing political supremacy. We detail how President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan captured the Constitutional Court via its transformation into the Constitutional Council. The uncertainty and upheaval of the post-Soviet collapse created opportunities for formal institutional changes that made the court susceptible to executive capture. Nazarbayev subsequently used the Council rulings to lay claim to democratic and constitutional legitimacy in a clear example of authoritarian constitutionalism. To trace the process of capture and legitimation, we examine key court rulings throughout the president’s tenure using a database of Constitutional Council decisions.

Keywords: Kazakhstan, Constitutional Court, Constitutional Council, Law, Legitimacy

Suggested Citation

Webb Williams, Nora and Hanson, Margaret, Captured Courts and Legitimized Autocrats: Transforming Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court (November 19, 2021). Law and Social Inquiry, 2022 (Online First View). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/lsi.2021.85, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3967601 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3967601

Nora Webb Williams (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

702 S. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

Margaret Hanson

Arizona State University (ASU) - School of Politics and Global Studies ( email )

Tempe, AZ
United States

Arizona State University (ASU) - Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

United States

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