Judicial Independence and the Reality of Political Power

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Judicial Independence and the Reality of Political Power

Defining judicial independence as the ability of courts to make decisions in the short term without regard for the preferences of officeholders, this article empirically examines the conditions under which judicial independence is and is not likely to be found. Nine periods of intense congressional hostility to the Supreme Court are identified and Court reactions are chartered along a continuum from pure independence to total subservience. Examination of the historical record highlights five key factors related to independence and shows that judicial independence existed in only three of the periods. In the remaining six periods, the Court either refrained from hearing certain cases, issued opinions more in line with congressional preferences, or reversed itself. The article rejects the hypothesis of judicial independence, concluding that in times of congressional opposition to the Court, only under special conditions identified in the analysis will it retain its independence.
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