Department of Comparative Politics

Constitutional reform can undermine courts’ independence

Constitutional reform intended to modernize the judiciary and promote judicial independence can have the opposite effect, Andrea Castagnola and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán find in a new article published in the British Journal of Political Science.

Illustration photo.

Main content

Negative consequences of constitutional reform

Legal scholars frequently advocate institutional reforms to modernize the judiciary and promote judicial independence. However, in the new article Judicial Instability and Endogenous Constitutional Change: Lessons from Latin America, published in the September edition of the British Journal of Political Science, Andrea Castagnola (Department of Comparative Politics) and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán (University of Pittsbrugh) find that such institutional changes may also have negative consequences, as politicians may have incentives to advance their own interests through such changes.


Castagnola and Pérez-Liñán have studied institutional changes in eighteen Latin American countries between 1904 and 2010, a continent with a long history of constitutional innovation. A main finding is that constitutional change is a significant cause of judicial instability and court manipulation. An example of such instability is the purge of the Bolivian Constitutional Court in 2009.


- Important to be aware of when constitutions are changed

Castagnola and Pérez-Liñán stress that their findings should not be interpreted as a warning against constitutional reform, but that it is important to be aware of the potential consequences of institutional change for the integrity of the judiciary.


Read the entire article here.


Andrea Castagnola holds a post-doc position at the Department of Comparative Politics. Read more about Castagnola’s research here.