Courts under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina

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This 2005 study offers a theoretical framework for understanding how institutional instability affects judicial behavior under dictatorship and democracy. In stark contrast to conventional wisdom, the central findings of the book contradict some assumptions that only independent judges rule against the government of the day. Set in the context of Argentina, the study uses the tools of positive political theory to explore the conditions under which courts rule against the government. In addition to shedding light on the dynamics of court-executive relations in Argentina, the study provides general lessons about institutions, instability, and the rule of law. In the process, the study builds a set of connections among diverse bodies of scholarship, including US judicial politics, comparative institutional analysis, positive political theory, and Latin American politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Helmkes short but important work should be read by scholars working in judicial process, positive political theory, democratization, and comparative institutional analysis."

"Gretchen Helmke's book is an important contribution to an emerging body of literature examining the current and historical check-and-balance role of Latin American judiciaries and its political and institutional underpinnings."
Linn Hammergren, World Bank, Latin American Politics and Society

"This book remains a valuable contribution to the literature on two fronts. First, Helmke has conducted admirable research, both quantitative and qualitative, on the Argentine judicial system, providing a wealth of information. Second, the book's unusual methodological breadth makes it an intriguing exploration of various tools' ability to answer different social-science questions."
Deborah Norden, Whittier College

"Clearly, the study of Latin American judiciaries is essential to understanding contemporary events in Latin American society. In Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina, Helmke makes a valid argument that judicial independence in Argentina is not necessarily a requirement for the implementation of the checks and balances system."
Michael R. Hall, Journal of Third World Studies

"Courts Under Constraints is rapidly becoming an integral an influential component of comparative judicial politics scholarship. Helmke's single-country comparative analysis is theoretically and empirically appealing, with important insights for politics, public law, and Latin American politics."
Druscilla Scribner, Latin American Politics and Society

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521820592
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2014
  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 221
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Gretchen Helmke is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Rochester. Her research on comparative institutions and Latin American politics appears in several leading journals, including the American Political Science Review, Comparative Politics, and Desarollo Economico. Her research has received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council. She has been a visiting research fellow at the Fundación Carlos Nino in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Part I. Ruling against the Rules: 1. Introduction; 2. Actors, institutions, and mechanisms; 3. Design and overview of the argument; Part II. The Logic of Strategic Defection: 4. The standard strategic account; 5. A new pattern of inter-branch relations; 6. Modifying the separations-of-powers approach; 7. Judicial motivations; 8. Problems of information; 9. Conclusion; Part III. A Theory of Court-Executive Relations: Insecure Tenure, Incomplete Information, and Strategic Behavior: 10. Politics and uncertainty; 11. The model; 12. Discussion; 13. Conclusion: testable hypotheses; Part IV. Judges, Generals, and Presidents: Institutional Insecurity on the Argentine Supreme Court, 1976–99: 14. The gap between formal and informal institutions; 15. Judges under bayonets: the military 'Proceso', 1976–83; 16. Judges under the Alfosín government; 17. Judges under the (first) Menem government: the difficulty of democratic consolidation, 1989–95; 18. Judges under the (Second) Menem government: the path toward democratic consolidation?; 19. Conclusion: an analytic narrative of institutional insecurity; Part V. The Reverse Legal-Political Cycle: An Analysis of Decision-Making on the Argentine Supreme Court: 20. Data and methodology; 21. Timing; 22. Importance; 23. Participation; 24. Target of the threat; 25. Rival hypotheses: composition, legality, and the mix of cases; 26. Conclusion; Part VI. The Dynamics of Defection: Human Rights, Civil Liberties, and Presidential Power: 27. The military court and human rights; 28. The Alfonsín Court and human and civil rights; 29. The Menem-era court and presidential power; 30. Conclusion: did defection work?; 31. Epilogue: the court and the collapse of Argentina; Part VII. Conclusion: Broader Lessons and Future Directions: 32. Strategic defection and the reverse-legal-political cycle; 33. Strategic defection in comparative perspective; 34. Further implications, future directions.

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