Barricading the Court:

Institutional Rules and High Court Appointments in Latin America 




The appointment of supreme and constitutional court justices is a significant moment for both exercising democratic control over high courts and preserving their independence from political branches. The wave of constitutional reforms in Latin American during the 1990s and 2000s has spawned a diversity of institutional rules for depoliticizing the judicial nomi- nation process and limiting the influence of any one political branch. Nonetheless, popular discourse and many experts have questioned whether such institutional rules are merely ”parch- ment barriers” that fail to prevent strong presidents from dominating judicial appointments to high courts. This paper relies on insights from the veto player literature to examine the politics behind the judicial appointment process in Latin America, and specifically to test the effects of different institutional rules on the capacity of political actors to select their ideal nominee. I construct an original dataset of observational data on constitutional court nominations from 16 Latin American countries between 2000-2013, including a total of 179 individual nominations. My principal outcome measure of interests is the ideological preferences of judicial appointees, which I measure through an archival newspaper search that assesses dominant perceptions of a candidate’s ideology in public discourse. I find that while presidents are more successful in obtaining their ideal candidate than other actors, rules that divide nomination power between multiple actors are correlated with significant effects which move nomination outcomes away from the president’s ideal point.