Skip to main content

Constitutional courts and citizens’ perceptions of judicial systems in Europe

Abstract

In recent decades, constitutional courts have become essential institutions in the political systems of many European countries. At the legal level, constitutional courts are designed as organs intended to protect and enforce the normative constitution. At the political level, they are also expected to play a role in the protection of democratic systems of government and human rights. However, the stability of a democracy does not only depend on efficient institutional designs, but also on acceptable levels of public support for democratic institutions. Using data from the European Social Survey, this article shows that constitutional courts have negative effects on public views of the court system in at least two dimensions: perceptions of judicial independence and perceptions of judicial fairness. These effects, however, decrease with the age of the democratic system. Given the core role that diffuse support for the judiciary plays in the stability of the rule of law in a country, our findings suggest that, paradoxically, constitutional courts might have detrimental effects to the very goal that justifies their existence: the protection of democratic systems of government.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. Jost et al. (2007) found out that moderate ideology was associated with avoidance of uncertainty. Thus, those with a moderate ideological position would rather choose status quo against radical change of the system.

  2. Despite the ordinal distribution of the original variable, we decided to combine categories and create a binomial distribution.

  3. Description of the variables can be found in Appendix Table 4.

  4. Scores are calculated from the country experts’ answers to the following question: ‘When judges not on the high court are ruling in cases that are salient to the government, how often would you say that their decisions merely reflect government wishes regardless of their sincere view of the legal record?’.

  5. To know more about the methodology of the V-DEM Project and the details of relative scales as the one used here, see Coppedge et al. (2018: 29).

  6. A possible alternative would have been group-level regressions on country averages. The problem with using average individual factors is that we cannot predict individual outcomes. As an example, a median average of confidence in political institutions can be the result of a mostly moderately satisfied citizenship or the consequence of very polarized positions towards them.

  7. The low number of cases at the superior level and the multicollinearity of constitutional courts, age of democracy and legal system discouraged us to include a model in which all three contextual variables were included at the same time.

  8. See empty models in Appendix Tables 5 and 6.

  9. See models without the oldest democracies in Tables 7 and 8 in Appendix.

References

  • Anderson, C.J., and M.M. Singer. 2008. The Sensitive Left and the Impervious Right: Multilevel Models and the Politics of Inequality, Ideology, and Legitimacy in Europe. Comparative Political Studies 41(4/5): 564–599.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, C.J., and Y.V. Tverdova. 2003. Corruption, Political Allegiances, and Attitudes Toward Government in Contemporary Democracies. American Journal of Political Science 47(1): 91–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Aydın Çakır, A., and E. Şekercioğlu. 2016. Public Confidence in the Judiciary: The Interaction Between Political Awareness and Level of Democracy. Democratization 23(4): 634–656.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bühlmann, M., and R. Kunz. 2011. Confidence in the Judiciary: Comparing the Independence and Legitimacy of Judicial Systems. West European Politics 34(2): 317–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cann, D.M., and J. Yates. 2008. Homegrown Institutional Legitimacy. Assessing Citizen’s Diffuse Support for State Court. American Political Research 36(2): 297–329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cappelletti, M., and J.C. Adams. 1965–1966. Judicial Review of Legislation: European Antecedents and Adaptations. Harvard Law Review 79: 1207–1224.

  • Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Staffan I. Lindberg, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Jan Teorell, David Altman, Michael Bernhard, Agnes Cornell, M. Steven Fish, Haakon Gjerløw, Adam Glynn, Allen Hicken, Joshua Krusell, Anna Lührmann, Kyle L. Marquardt, Kelly McMann, Valeriya Mechkova, Moa Olin, Pamela Paxton, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Rachel Sigman, Jeffrey Staton, Aksel Sundström, Eitan Tzelgov, Luca Uberti, Yi-ting Wang, Tore Wig, and Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. “V-Dem Codebook v8” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. https://doi.org/10.23696/vdemcy18.

  • De Visser, M. 2014. Constitutional Review in Europe. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Easton, D. 1965. A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Easton, D. 1975. A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support. British Journal of Political Science 5(4): 435–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ESS Round 5: European Social Survey Round 5 Data. 2010. Data File Edition 3.3. NSD—Norwegian Centre for Research Data, Norway—Data Archive and Distributor of ESS Data for ESS ERIC.

  • Ferejohn, J. 2002. Constitutional Review in the Global Context. New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy 6: 49–59.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferreres Comella, V. 2003–2004. The Consequences of Centralizing Constitutional Review in a Special Court: Some Thoughts on Judicial Activism. Texas Law Review 82: 1705–1736.

  • Ferreres Comella, V. 2004. The European Model of Constitutional Review of Legislation: Toward Decentralization? International Journal of Constitutional Law 2(3): 461–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreres Comella, V. 2009. Constitutional Courts and Democratic Values. A European Perspective. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Fox, J. 2003. Effect Displays in R for Generalised Linear Models. Journal of Statistical Software 8(15): 1–27. http://www.jstatsoft.org/v08/i15/.

  • Gelman, A., and J. Hill. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regresssion and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson, J. 2007. The Legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court in a Polarized Polity. Journal of European Legal Studies 4(3): 507–538.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson, J.L., G.A. Caldeira, and V.A. Baird. 1998. On the Legitimacy of National High Courts. American Political Science Review 92(2): 343–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ginsburg, T., and M. Versteeg. 2014. Why Do Countries Adopt Constitutional Review? Journal of Law Economics and Organization 30(3): 587–622.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • González-Ocantos, E. 2016. Evaluations of Human Rights Trials and Trust in Judicial Institutions: Evidence from Fujimori’s Trial in Peru. The International Journal of Human Rights 20(4): 445–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Griffith, J.A.G. 1979. The Political Constitution. Modern Law Review 42(1): 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hanretty, C. 2012. Dissent in Iberia: The Ideal Points of Justices on the Spanish and Portuguese Constitutional Tribunals. European Journal of Political Research 51(5): 671–692.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harding, A., P. Leyland, and T. Groppi. 2009. Constitutional Courts: Forms, Functions and Practice in Comparative Perspective. In Constitutional Courts. A Comparative Study, ed. A. Harding and P. Leyland, 1–30. London: Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hönnige, C. 2009. The Electoral Connection: How the Pivotal Judge Affects Oppositional Success at European Constitutional Courts. West European Politics 32(5): 963–984.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jost, J.T., J.L. Napier, H. Thorisdottir, S.D. Gosling, T.P. Palfai, and B. Ostafin. 2007. Are Needs to Manage Uncertainty and Threat Associated with Political Conservatism or Ideological Extremity? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33: 989–1007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kelsen, H. 1942. Judicial Review of Legislation: A Comparative Study of the Austrian and the American Constitution. The Journal of Politics 4(2): 183–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kelsen, H. 2015[1931]. Who Ought to be the Guardian of the Constitution? Kelsen’s Reply to Schmitt. In The Guardian of the Constitution. Hans Kelsen and Carl Schmitt on the Limits of Constitutional Law, ed. L. Vinx, 174–221. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Leifeld, P. 2013. Texreg: Conversion of Statistical Model Output in R to LaTeX and HTML Tables. Journal of Statistical Software 55(8): 1–24. http://www.jstatsoft.org/v55/i08/.

  • Lübbe-Wolff, G. 2016. Constitutional Courts and Democracy. Facets of an Ambivalent Relationship. In Rational Lawmaking Under Review, ed. K. Meßerschmidt and A.D. Oliver-Lalana, 19–32. Switzerland: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • McAllister, I. 1999. The Economic Performance of Governments. In Critical Citizens—Global Support for Democratic Governance, ed. P. Norris, 188–203. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Mondak, J.J., and S. Ishiyama Smithey. 1997. The Dynamics of Public Support for the Supreme Court. The Journal of Politics 59(4): 114–1142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Overby, L.M., R.D. Brown, J.M. Bruce, C.E. Smigh Jr., and J.W. Winkle III. 2004. Justice in Black and White: Race, Perceptions of Fairness, and Diffuse Support for the Judicial System in a Southern State. Justice System Journal 25(2): 159–182.

    Google Scholar 

  • Singh, S., E. Karakoç, and A. Blais. 2012. Differentiating Winners: How Elections Affect Satisfaction with Democracy. Electoral Studies 31(1): 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2011.11.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singh, S., I. Lago, and A. Blais. 2011. Winning and Competitiveness as Determinants of Political Support*. Social Science Quarterly 92: 695–709. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00788.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stone Sweet, A. 2002a. Constitutional Courts and Parliamentary Democracy. West European Politics 25(1): 77–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stone Sweet, A. 2002b. Judicialization and the Construction of Governance. In On Law, Politics and Judicialization, ed. M. Shapiro and A. Stone Sweet, 55–89. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Tushnet, M. 1999. Taking the Constitution Away From Courts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Waldron, J. 2006. The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review. The Yale Law Journal 115: 1346–1400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weiden, D.L. 2011. Judicial Politicization, Ideology, and Activism at the High Courts of the United States, Canada, and Australia. Political Research Quarterly 64(2): 335–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We want to thank Graham Gee and Martin Gross for valuable comments on a previous version of this manuscript. All mistakes and omissions remain the sole responsibility of the authors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pablo Castillo-Ortiz.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Table 4 Descriptive statistics
Table 5 Empty model and model with individual predictors only for ‘Justice not influenced by politics’
Table 6 Empty model and model with individual predictors only for ‘Fairness of Justice’
Table 7 Logistic multilevel models for ‘Justice not influenced by politics’ removing the countries with 100 years of democracy
Table 8 Linear multilevel models for ‘Fairness of Justice’ removing the countries with 100 years of democracy

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Navarrete, R.M., Castillo-Ortiz, P. Constitutional courts and citizens’ perceptions of judicial systems in Europe. Comp Eur Polit 18, 128–150 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00154-9

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00154-9

Keywords

  • Constitutional courts
  • Constitutional review
  • Judicial politics
  • Trust in institutions