The Chilean 1925 Supreme Court Doomed to Fail

The Chilean 1925 Constitution established the power of judicial review of legislation for the first time in Chile’s history. Nevertheless, under the 1925 Constitution, the Supreme Court never used its power to enforce relevant democratic values against legislators in high-profile cases. The constitutional experiment failed, and Chile’s legal system was a sort of “legality without courts” (Faúndez 2010). The conventional explanation argues that the Chilean legalistic culture of that time was apolitical and formalistic, but little work has focused on the incentives that judges had at that time. I claim that the narrative of judicial apoliticism served to justify, and perhaps to persuade, the Supreme Court’s choice not to intervene in politics, but this account is insufficient to explain judicial behavior fully. More attention needs to be given to the institutional weaknesses of the judiciary and the political instability that existed at that time.