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Bookshelf: Photo: “Library“, by Stewart Butterfield licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Garcia Holgado B, Sánchez Urribarri R. Court-packing and democratic decay: A necessary relationship? Global Constitutionalism. 2023;12(2):350-377.


A growing body of literature on the role of courts in democratic backsliding claims that court-packing weakens liberal democracy. However, this is not necessarily the case. The goals of the actors who produce court-packing help to explain why the co-optation of the judiciary can have a substantial negative effect on liberal democracy in some (although not all) cases. In this respect, we distinguish two types of court-packing. First, policy-driven court-packing occurs when politicians manipulate the composition of courts in order to assure a quick implementation of policies. Although this tends to negatively affect judicial independence, it is not per se a first step towards regime change. Second, regime-driven court-packing happens when politicians alter the composition of the courts with the goal of eroding democracy. In this case, court-packing’s negative effect on judicial independence has a systemic negative effect on different dimensions of liberal democracy. Relying on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, we conceptualize these two types of court-packing by comparing two cases: Carlos Menem (1989–99) in Argentina, seeking judicial support to carry out pro-market economic reforms, and Hugo Chávez (1999–2013) and Nicolás Maduro (2013–present) in Venezuela, seeking to control the judiciary in the context of democratic backsliding.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.