Law versus Democracy: Reputation Costs, Judicial Alliance Networks, and Democratic Erosion in Turkey

29 August 2023, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Conventional wisdom holds that independent judiciaries protect democracies from backsliding. I instead argue that courts can enable democratic erosion depending on their alignment with voters and networks with elite allies. Whereas existing theories model the judiciary’s strategic interaction with the executive and legislature, I add that executive-judicial conflicts occur in front of an influential audience: voters. Adapting the concept of “audience costs” from international relations, I develop a formal model in which executive-judicial conflict is institution-enhancing when judicial sanctions impose a “reputation cost” on politicians but institution-eroding when judicial penalties give politicians a “reputation benefit.” Findings from an original dataset of 3,000 decisions issued by Turkey’s Constitutional Court suggest that two features of judicial alliance networks pull courts out of alignment with voters and into the institution-eroding equilibrium: judicial networks with 1) partisan allies and 2) unelected allies, such as indirectly elected heads of state.


democratic erosion
judicial politics
public law and courts
comparative judicial politics


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