How Can Judges Challenge Dictators and Get Away With It?

The literature on courts under authoritarian or hybrid regimes typically suggests that judges that decide to challenge a regime in high-stakes cases might face political backlashes. For that reason, some argue that courts should develop strategies such as judicial avoidance or weak judicial review. I argue that sometimes those strategies are unnecessary. To be successful, judges need to identify the autocrats' expected costs of disobeying the judicial decision. If the projected costs are high enough, dictators might prefer to obey the ruling. One way in which this judicial strategy can work is by triggering a “Constitutional Paradox.” The paradox is a dilemma that forces the dictators to decide whether to respect the rulings while supporting and enforcing the institutions they had established, or to disobey the unfavorable decisions while risking to divide the regime's supporting coalition, harming their credibility and weakening the legitimacy or authority of their institutions.