The Shadow Effect of Courts: Judicial Review and the Politics of Preemptive Reform

Article by Tommaso Pavone and Øyvind Stiansen in American Political Science Review 

Abstract

We challenge the prevalent claim that courts can only influence policy by adjudicating disputes. Instead, we theorize the shadow effect of courts: policy makers preemptively altering policies in anticipation of possible judicial review. While American studies imply that preemptive reforms hinge on litigious interest groups pressuring policy makers who support judicial review, we advance a comparative theory that flips these presumptions. In less litigious and more hostile political contexts, policy makers may instead weaponize preemptive reforms to preclude bureaucratic conflicts from triggering judicial oversight and starve courts of the cases they need to build their authority. By allowing some preemptive judicial influence to resist direct judicial interference, recalcitrant policy makers demonstrate that shadow effects are not an unqualified good for courts. We illustrate our theory by tracing how a major welfare reform in Norway was triggered by a conflict within its Ministry of Labor and a government resistance campaign targeting a little-known international court.

The article is open access and available on the journal webpage (external link).

Published Aug. 27, 2021 2:03 PM - Last modified Aug. 27, 2021 2:03 PM