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Photo: “Supreme administrative court of the Czech Republic,” by Millenium187 licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Hue modified from the original.

Smekal, Hubert, Jaroslav Benák, and Ladislav Vyhnánek. “Through selective activism towards greater resilience: the Czech Constitutional Court’s interventions into high politics in the age of populism.” The International Journal of Human Rights (2021): 1-22.


With technocratic populist Andrej Babiš leading the Czech government coalition, the country has experienced some democratic backsliding. In contrast to its Hungarian and Polish counterparts, however, the Czech Constitutional Court has been spared from executive capture. This article argues that resilient constitutional courts may act as one of the key safeguards against illiberal populism. We demonstrate that resilient constitutional courts are products of an institutional framework, which prevents court-packing by loyal allies of populist leaders, and of courts’ activities that increase their reputation with the public, thus making political attacks against them overly costly. We argue that the Czech Constitutional Court has exercised an approach of selective judicial activism that focuses on keeping political competition fair while avoiding involvement in controversial socially transformative judicial decision-making which would outrage large parts of the population. Moreover, by acting as a guardian of fair political competition, the Court contributed to the further fragmentation of the political landscape, which in turn prevented the accumulation of political power, and hence the Court shielded itself from political attacks.

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.