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Legal Origins and the Evolution of Institutions: Evidence from American State Courts

  • Daniel Berkowitz
  • Karen Clay

Several important studies of institutions assume that the quality of institutions is persistent following some formative historic event. The assumption of institutional persistence, however, begs the question of how these institutions persisted. To better understand this issue, this paper examines the evolution of state courts in the United States. We begin by reviewing the evidence that France, Spain, and Mexico operated civil-law legal systems in territory that would later make up thirteen states. One important philosophical difference between civil-law and common-law legal systems arises from differences in their beliefs regarding the appropriate degree of judicial independence. To show how these beliefs, if persistent, would manifest themselves, we present a model in which legislatures allocate budgets to their judges. In the model, common and civil-law legislatures have different preferences regarding the level of judicial independence. Our model predicts civil-law legislatures will give fewer discretionary resources to their judges when judicial elections are replaced by a system of appointments. We confirm this prediction using state-level data for the period 1961-1999. Finally, we argue that one important reason why civil-law preferences for a weak judiciary appear to have persisted in the American states is that the political culture within state legislatures is slow-moving.

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Paper provided by University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 320.

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Date of creation: Jun 2007
Date of revision: Jun 2007
Handle: RePEc:pit:wpaper:320
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  1. F. Andrew Hanssen, 2004. "Learning about Judicial Independence: Institutional Change in the State Courts," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 431-473, 06.
  2. Stanley L. Engerman & Kenneth Lee Sokoloff, 2002. "Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development among New World Economies," ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, August.
  3. Glaeser, Edward & Scheinkman, Jose & Shleifer, Andrei, 2003. "The injustice of inequality," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 199-222, January.
  4. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 2003. "Political Institutions and Policy Choices: Evidence from the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 7-73, March.
  5. Daniel Berkowitz & Karen Clay, 2006. "The Effect of Judicial Independence on Courts: Evidence from the American States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 399-440, 06.
  6. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. William M. Landes & Richard A. Posner, 1975. "The Independent Judiciary in an Interest-Group Perspective," NBER Working Papers 0110, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. F. Andrew Hanssen, 2004. "Is There a Politically Optimal Level of Judicial Independence?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 712-729, June.
  9. Engerman, Stanley L. & Sokoloff, Kenneth L., 2005. "The Evolution of Suffrage Institutions in the New World," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(04), pages 891-921, December.
  10. Eric Maskin & Jean Tirole, 2004. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," Economics Working Papers 0020, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  11. Ramseyer, J Mark, 1994. "The Puzzling (In)dependence of Courts: A Comparative Approach," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(2), pages 721-47, June.
  12. Simeon Djankov & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer, 2002. "The Regulation of Entry," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 1-37.
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