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Tactical Balancing: High Court Decision Making on Politically Crucial Cases

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This article advances a new account of judicial behavior: the thesis of tactical balancing. Building on existing models of judicial decision making, the thesis posits that high court justices balance a discrete set of considerations—justices' ideologies, their institutional interests, the potential consequences of their rulings, public opinion, elected leaders' preferences, and law—as they decide important cases. Variation in a high court's balancing of those considerations as it decides different cases leads it to alternate between challenging and endorsing the exercise of government power. The way in which high courts carry out this “tactical balancing” reflects their broader strategy for prioritizing the different roles they can play in a polity, and thus has significant implications for the rule of law and regime stability in developing democracies. The thesis is illustrated through a detailed analysis of the Brazilian high court's rulings on cases concerning crucial economic policies (1985–2004).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, Irvine

Publication date: June 1, 2011


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