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Towards Juristocracy

Towards Juristocracy

The Origins and Consequences of the New Constitutionalism

Ran Hirschl

ISBN 9780674025479

Publication date: 09/30/2007

In countries and supranational entities around the globe, constitutional reform has transferred an unprecedented amount of power from representative institutions to judiciaries. The constitutionalization of rights and the establishment of judicial review are widely believed to have benevolent and progressive origins, and significant redistributive, power-diffusing consequences. Ran Hirschl challenges this conventional wisdom.

Drawing upon a comprehensive comparative inquiry into the political origins and legal consequences of the recent constitutional revolutions in Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa, Hirschl shows that the trend toward constitutionalization is hardly driven by politicians' genuine commitment to democracy, social justice, or universal rights. Rather, it is best understood as the product of a strategic interplay among hegemonic yet threatened political elites, influential economic stakeholders, and judicial leaders. This self-interested coalition of legal innovators determines the timing, extent, and nature of constitutional reforms.

Hirschl demonstrates that whereas judicial empowerment through constitutionalization has a limited impact on advancing progressive notions of distributive justice, it has a transformative effect on political discourse. The global trend toward juristocracy, Hirschl argues, is part of a broader process whereby political and economic elites, while they profess support for democracy and sustained development, attempt to insulate policymaking from the vicissitudes of democratic politics.


  • The great bulk of scholarship on judicial review suffers two major shortcomings: it lacks any serious attention to what goes on outside the United States, and, even within the American context, it has been marred by the work of a generation of scholars who came of age during the highly unusual era of the Warren Court. Ran Hirschl's superb treatment remedies both these defects, with results that should be profoundly troubling to all partisans of independent courts and judicial review. His rich comparative treatments of the judicialization of politics in Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa is informed by an masterful grasp of the historical and theoretical literature on the US. Hirschl makes a convincing case that courts do little, if anything, for advancing progressive notions of social justice that are not achieved by democratic politics. Courts protect powerful economic and social interests by taking controversial issues out of politics and off the table, thus moving democracies toward unaccountable juristocracy. Hirschl is to be congratulated for producing this long overdue study. It should be mandatory reading for constitutional and democratic theorists the world over, as well as anyone who has a hand in institutional design of new democracies.

    —Ian Shapiro, Yale University


  • Ran Hirschl is Professor of Political Science and Law, University of Toronto, and Canada Research Chair in Constitutionalism and Democracy.

Book Details

  • 296 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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