Public Law and Courts

Constitutional Design And the Perceived Legitimacy Of Court Systems: Evidence From Cross-National Time Series Data



Studies of judicial legitimacy have largely focused on courts in the United States. We lack a cross-national measure of judicial legitimacy and little is known about the sources of legitimacy of court systems in different countries. In this paper, I combine cross-national surveys, expert data and government statistics, to build a new cross-national measure of judicial legitimacy for over 120 countries from 1990 till 2020. Drawing on this new measure, I test whether the constitutional structure of the legal system can affect the future legitimacy of courts. I find no evidence that courts in countries that have constitutional provisions such as guarantees of judicial independence and fair trial are more likely to be perceived as legitimate by the public. Instead, I find that variation in judicial legitimacy can be explained by the levels of democracy, gross domestic product and de-facto independence of courts.


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