American Political Science Review

Research Article

Judicial Behavior under Political Constraints: Evidence from the European Court of Justice


a1 Emory University

a2 Washington University in St. Louis

a3 Georgia State University


The actual impact of judicial decisions often depends on the behavior of executive and legislative bodies that implement the rulings. Consequently, when a court hears a case involving the interests of those controlling the executive and legislative institutions, those interests can threaten to obstruct the court's intended outcome. In this paper, we evaluate whether and to what extent such constraints shape judicial rulings. Specifically, we examine how threats of noncompliance and legislative override influence decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Based on a statistical analysis of a novel dataset of ECJ rulings, we find that the preferences of member-state governments—whose interests are central to threats of noncompliance and override—have a systematic and substantively important impact on ECJ decisions.


c1 Clifford J. Carruba is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University, 307 Tarbutton Hall, 1555 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322 (

c2 Matthew Gabel is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1063, 326 Eliot Hall, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63105 (

c3 Charles Hankla is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University, 8 Peachtree Center Avenue, Suite 1005, Atlanta, GA 30303-2514 (


We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the National Science Foundation (SES-079084) and the Halle Institute at Emory University. We thank David Anderson, Carles Boix, Damian Chalmers, Marie Demetriou, the Right Honorable Sir David Edward, John Ferejohn, Geoffrey Garrett, Mark Hallerberg, Imelda Higgins, Simon Hix, John Huber, Joseph Jupille, James Rogers, Charles Shipan, Georg Vanberg, David Wildasin, Chris Zorn, and participants in the comparative politics workshop at the University of Chicago for valuable advice and comments on this project.