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Matthew C. Stephenson, “When the Devil Turns … ”: The Political Foundations of Independent Judicial Review, 32 J. Legal Stud. 59 (2003).

Abstract: An independent judiciary with the power to constrain the executive and legislative branches is commonly thought to be the foundation of government under the rule of law. However, it is not obvious why those with political power would ever tolerate the constraints imposed by an independent court. I offer an explanation for independent judicial review that is based on ongoing political competition between risk‐averse parties. An independent judiciary is a mechanism through which these political competitors can enforce mutual restraint. But support for independent judicial review is sustainable only when (1) the political system is sufficiently competitive, (2) judicial doctrine is sufficiently moderate, and (3) parties are both sufficiently risk averse and forward looking. I employ a simple formal model to show how these variables influence the political sustainability of independent judicial review, and I also present the results of a preliminary empirical test that confirms the central hypotheses.