Judges and Constitutions:
The Sources of Judicial Behavior under Democratic and Authoritarian Regimes
Constitutions that frame democratic political systems generally contain elements of authoritarianism. When they (re)emerge, it is often left to judges to rule and potentially maintain essential liberties or allow democratic backsliding. Yet judges do not operate in a vacuum. Their behavior may be influenced by their mode of appointment and tenure, their constitutional duties, and their institutional culture. Together these place judges on a spectrum from a position of judicial independence to one of subordination to the executive branch, the electorate, or their own hierarchy.
In Judges Beyond Politics in Democracy and Dictatorship: Lessons From Chile, Lisa Hilbink seeks to understand the behavior of judges “trained under and appointed by democratic governments” who “facilitate[d] and condone[d] authoritarian policies” in Chile during and after the Pinochet dictatorship. Hilbink concludes that in contrast to the lofty goals of legal positivism and rigorous professionalization, “apoliticism appears to be the wrong ideal around which to construct a judiciary in service of liberal democracy…. For when judges are prohibited by institutional structure and/or ideology from engaging with the wider polity, they are unlikely to cultivate the professional attributes necessary for them to defend and promote liberal-democratic constitutionalism. An ‘apolitical’ judiciary is thus far better suited to authoritarianism than to democracy.” Hilbink argues that her conclusions could be applied to other constitutional systems in which the independence or dependence of the judiciary interplay with tensions between democratic and authoritarian tendencies.
This international and cross-disciplinary colloquium heeds Hilbink’s call for further comparative research on the sources of judicial behavior under democratic and authoritarian regimes. Our focus is especially on western and eastern European nations and the United States. Can Hilbink’s conclusions be generalized? Or, might there be exceptions, such as the strong tradition of constitutionalism that she suggests may perhaps limit government power in the United States? We welcome papers from historians, political scientists, and legal scholars that shed light on the evolution of judicial systems in various nations with particular attention to the sources of judicial behavior.
Please send your proposal in French or English (maximum 300 words) by e-mail to Marie-Elisabeth Baudoin (m-elisabeth.baudoin), Marie Bolton (email@example.com) and Alix Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) before October 31, 2023.
 The subtext of our title is derived from Lisa Hilbink, Judges Beyond Politics in Democracy and Dictatorship: Lessons From Chile (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 7.
 Hilbink, 4.
 Hilbink, 6, 8.
 Hilbink, 223, 235-36.