Powerful Courts and Democratic Erosion: A Conceptual and Explanatory Approach

Courts are weak institutions at least when compared to their elected counterparts. Courts possess neither the sword nor the purse and, by themselves, have little chances to resist an aggression coming from the elected branches. In scenarios of democratic erosion, this would mean that it is very unlikely that a court can halt the undemocratic impulses of legislatures and executive offices. While this is generally true, a few courts around the world –usually labeled as “strong” or “powerful” courts– have managed to slow down or even entirely put an end to processes of democratic decay. This paper seeks to define what judicial strength (or power) is, and what its sources are. In a world facing democratic backsliding, refining our comprehension of judicial power and its drivers is something relevant as a strong court can at least offer more resistance to undemocratic rulers and, in extraordinary cases, save democracy.