In contrast to the more common focus on judicial independence in relation to government institutions, we study under what conditions citizens are willing to trade democratic principles in favor of expected partisan gains? To disentangle this trade-off, we administered discrete choice experiments in surveys across nine European countries to elicit citizens’ reactions to nondemocratic reform proposals of the judiciary. The findings suggest that respondents in all countries show some credible commitment to judicial independence. They support this democratic principle first and are partisans only second. The cross-national comparison widens the scope beyond the typically studied US Supreme Court and shows that in polarized societies – which more often suffer from democratic backsliding – reforms to limit judicial independence are less sharply rejected. This has major implications not only for the literature on comparative judicial politics and democratic stability but also for our understanding of citizens’ reactions to democratic backsliding.
Submitted for review.
Thomas Gschwend (University of Mannheim)