Chief Justices and Autocratic Consolidation: The Venezuelan Supreme Court under Nicolás Maduro’s Rule

This article discusses the role of high courts in a consolidating autocracy. The use of high courts to entrench authoritarian rule depends on a series of non-exclusive conditions related to the court system, regime features and political context. A supportive judiciary can help the government compile information on a range of actors and provide a venue to create policy, solve internal conflicts, and punish opponents. It could also help an autocratic regime bolster its claim that it is stable, functional and with enough political clout to deliver credible commitments made with domestic and international allies. I discuss these arguments in the context of Venezuela under Maduro’s rule (2013 – Current), where the Supreme Court functions as an ‘authoritarian enclave’ – blocking opposition threats, disowning fundamental rights, supporting policy solutions, providing guidelines and key decisions for managing the opposition and repression, and enhancing regime legitimacy vis-à-vis allies.