As a political scientist studying law and courts in a comparative perspective, I am interested in the interaction between judicial institutions and politico-economic elements. On the one hand, my research explores political and economic conditions under which countries promote independent courts and the rule of law, particularly in the context of non-democracies and emerging democracies. On the other hand, I also analyze the impact of effective law and courts on better governance, such as political accountability and economic development. I investigate these themes through a mix of cross-national quantitative analysis and qualitative case studies with a regional focus on East and Southeast Asia.


Working Papers

  • “The Differential Effects of Political Threats on Judicial Independence in Autocracies” (with Yunus Emre Orhan) Revise & Resubmit in Political Research Quarterly

Would judicial independence be at risk in autocracies when autocrats are politically threatened by popular uprisings or coups d’état? This article investigates how autocrats manage the court’s independence to deal with different types of political threats for their survival. We claim that under the presence of mass-based threats, autocrats are more likely to promote judicial independence as a signal of a more democratic rule and the self-restraint on their arbitrary power to appease mass-based grievances. By contrast, in the face of coup threats, autocrats tend to render the judiciary more subservient so that these courts can make rulings to safeguard the incumbent regime’s authority and incapacitate regime challengers. Our quantitative analysis based on a large sample of autocratic countries between 1960 and 2015 demonstrates that credible threats from the masses and ruling elites have contrasting effects on the development of judicial independence. We also find that these effects are prominent in closed autocracies but weakened in electoral autocracies. This article advances our understanding of judicial independence in autocracies by relating it to the two fundamental problems of authoritarian control and authoritarian power-sharing.

  • “Theorizing and Testing the Maintenance of Judicial Independence in Autocracies”

Building independent courts is a commitment by political leaders that they are willing to tie their hands, restrain their (often arbitrary) power, and respect judicial decisions even if the courts rule against them. However, if autocrats are rational, why do they persist in their respectful behavior towards independent courts even when such courts may prove adverse to themselves? Under the absence of institutional checks to constrain their power, how can judicial independence be credibly maintained in autocracies without being eroded by autocrats? I develop a theory on the maintenance of judicial independence in autocracies, which suggests that a regime’s economic reliance on foreign direct investment (FDI) and autocrats’ concern about their reputation interact to create strong and ongoing incentives to maintain judicial independence as a property rights assurance for foreign investors. Using panel data covering 52 authoritarian countries during the post-Cold War period, I find that a regime’s past reliance on FDI is positively and significantly associated with the current level of judicial independence. My empirical analysis further indicates that the theorized effect is restricted to the economic dimension of judicial independence, in both the medium term and the long term, and that the effect is also contingent on the type of authoritarian regime present in the country.

  • “Party System Institutionalization, Electoral Competition, and Judicial Independence in Developing Democracies: Evidence from South Korea and the Philippines”

A well-established theory in the study of judicial independence is that the incumbent who anticipates the loss of power under intense electoral competition seeks to promote independent courts as political “insurance” in order to diminish the cost of being out of power. But why do competitive elections not always lead to greater judicial independence in some emerging democracies? I argue that close electoral competition prompts the incumbent to develop independent courts as insurance only when such competition is “robust” (Grzymala-Busse 2007). Two possible circumstances under which robust political competition may appear in emerging democracies are (a) a highly institutionalized party system that stabilizes electoral competition and (b) the presence of a reinvented authoritarian successor party to become one of the viable actors in democratic contestation. I apply my argument to the cases of South Korea and the Philippines, which differ in the level of judicial independence despite their similar degree of electoral closeness after democratization. I find that South Korea, compared to the Philippines, has an institutionalized party system and a stable set of robust actors, and these conditions for robust political competition have led to the development of independent courts consistent with the insurance logic.