Legal Origins and the Evolution of Institutions: Evidence from American State Courts

47 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2007

See all articles by Daniel Berkowitz

Daniel Berkowitz

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics

Karen Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 14, 2007

Abstract

Several important studies of institutions assume that the quality of institutions is persistent following some formative historic event. The assumption of institutional persistence, however, begs the question of how these institutions persisted. To better understand this issue, this paper examines the evolution of state courts in the United States. We begin by reviewing the evidence that France, Spain, and Mexico operated civil-law legal systems in territory that would later make up thirteen states. One important philosophical difference between civil-law and common-law legal systems arises from differences in their beliefs regarding the appropriate degree of judicial independence. To show how these beliefs, if persistent, would manifest themselves, we present a model in which legislatures allocate budgets to their judges. In the model, common and civil-law legislatures have different preferences regarding the level of judicial independence. Our model predicts civil-law legislatures will give fewer discretionary resources to their judges when judicial elections are replaced by a system of appointments. We confirm this prediction using state-level data for the period 1961-1999. Finally, we argue that one important reason why civil-law preferences for a weak judiciary appear to have persisted in the American states is that the political culture within state legislatures is slow-moving.

Keywords: Civil law, persistence, judicial independence, political culture.

JEL Classification: K00, N4, P37

Suggested Citation

Berkowitz, Daniel and Clay, Karen B., Legal Origins and the Evolution of Institutions: Evidence from American State Courts (June 14, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=993886 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.993886

Daniel Berkowitz (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics ( email )

4711 WWPH
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-7072 (Phone)
412-648-3011 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.pitt.edu/~dmberk

Karen B. Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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