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Unformatted text preview: Measuring Judicial Performance in Latin America Joseph L. Staats Shaun Bowler Jonathan T. Hiskey ABSTRACT An increasing number of development scholars and policymakers are recognizing the importance of Latin American judicial reforms in shaping the ultimate outcome of the regions dual transition. We can hardly begin to assess the conditions in which judicial systems are likely to improve, however, unless we have a means to measure judicial performance systematically across countries. This article offers just such a comprehensive cross-national measure of judicial performance for Latin America. Drawing from a survey of Latin American legal scholars and practitioners from 17 countries in the region, it seeks to establish a more valid, and therefore more useful, assessment of the performance of Latin American judiciaries than existing measures, in order to advance efforts to understand the causes and consequences of effective judicial reforms in the region. L atin America has, in the last two decades, witnessed a remarkable transition to democratic rule after a lengthy period marred by author- itarian regimes. A recent concern among scholars of this democratiza- tion process has been how deeply democratic institutions have actually taken hold in these new regimes and diminished the likelihood of authoritarian relapse. These scholars can be divided roughly between those who assess whether democracy, in at least its minimal form, is likely to persist over time (for example, Hagopian 1998; Linz and Stepan 1996; Schneider 1995) and quality of democracy scholars, who focus more on the impact of democratization on such issues as political and economic inequality, the advancement of education and health care, the alleviation of poverty, and the establishment of an effective and equi- table application of the rule of law (for example, Degregori 1998; Dia- mond 1999; Frhling 1998; Holston and Caldeira 1998; Karl 1990; Navarro and Bourque 1998; Varas 1998). Scholars studying these newly emerging democracies recognize in general terms that judiciaries are an important component of democratic consolidation; yet until very recently, the study of judicial institutions has not been a central focus in research on Latin American political sys- tems. This neglect characterizes the more general tendency among 77 development scholars to pay far more attention to the legislative and executive institutions of countries in transition, causing some observers to lament that law and courts is probably the most neglected subfield of comparative politics and that comparativists know precious little about judicial and legal systems in any part of the world outside of the United States (Gibson et al. 1998, 343)....
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