Court of Public Opinion: Government Accountability and Judicial Independence

35 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2003

See all articles by Matthew Stephenson

Matthew Stephenson

Harvard Law School; Institute for Corruption Studies

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2003


This paper contributes judicial politics literature by analyzing the conditions under which the public's ability to hold the elected government accountable might enable courts to exercise independent authority over policy. Using a model of policy-making in a system characterized by formal separation of powers, judicial dependence on government support, asymmetric information between the voters and the government, and political accountability of the policy branch, I show the conditions under which the public will force the government to cede power to the courts. This formal analysis makes three contributions to the literature. First, the model provides a theoretical justification for, and suggests limits to, the common assumption that disregard for judicial decisions is politically costly for the elected branches. Second, the model suggests a systematic account for a number of empirical observations about judicial politics. Third, the model demonstrates how systems of unified or separated powers can emerge endogenously.

JEL Classification: K40, C72

Suggested Citation

Stephenson, Matthew Caleb, Court of Public Opinion: Government Accountability and Judicial Independence (June 2003). Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Caleb Stephenson (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9863 (Phone)

Institute for Corruption Studies

Stevenson Hall 425
Normal, IL 61790-4200
United States

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