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  • Perhaps the major analytical contribution of this

    2018-11-15

    Perhaps the major analytical contribution of this paper is the identification of the dimensions along which preferences align in the Brazilian Supreme Court. For the US it is well established that preferences in the Supreme Court, as in Congress, can be well portrayed as aligning along a single conservative to liberal dimension. This reflects the polarization of American politics that is present in all its political institutions, from electoral rules to political parties to the working of Congress, pervading even the judiciary. Given that Brazil has a more proportional than majoritarian system a similar polarization exists but is more nuanced and fragmented. These characteristics are reflected in our results, as we found that including a second dimension provided useful information. Contrary to the US, neither of the dimensions can be depicted as capturing a left to right or a liberal to conservative alignment of preferences. Our analysis indicates instead that the first and most important dimension captures disagreements between the Justices over laws that are in the Executive\'s direct interest, especially when related to economic issues. As the data covers a SCH 527123 in which Brazil underwent a highly transformative process of institutional strengthening and economic reform (Alston et al., 2013), in which the Court played an active role as a political actor, it is an important finding that this dimension has been the major guiding principle. Similarly, given that the estimated ideal points on this dimension capture the Justices’ preferences on federal economic policy they can be used by other researchers to conduct analyses or test hypotheses where the Supreme Court Justices’ preferences are relevant. After estimating the ideal points and identifying the dimensions we provide four different applications using these measures to analyze the working and different characteristics of the Brazilian Supreme Court. These applications serve both to show the range of possibilities of these methods for studying Judicial Politics in Brazil and other countries besides the US, as well as providing insights related to the functioning of political institutions in Brazil. The first application is to identify the Court\'s median Justice in each of the periods. Recognizing which Justice is the median voter is key for understanding the court\'s decisions, as under some fairly general conditions the median Justice\'s policy choice will also be the choice of the Court majority. Yet, as Martin et al. (2005: 1279) argue, interstitial fluid is not always obvious how to locate and identify the Court\'s median. As we consider two dimensions it is possible for the median to be a different justice in each dimension. In most periods however the median in one dimension coincided with that in the other. Another interesting result we find is that the median Justice in most periods is the Justice that has most recently joined the Court. This ‘rookie effect’ suggests that the President has been able to closely influence the Court\'s decisions in our sample period. The second application also centers on the notion of a median Justice. We use the estimated ideal points to consider the possibilities for the current President (Rousseff) to remake the Court in the next years, considering the fact that several Justices will be forcefully retired (70 years of age) in the next 2 years. This follows the exercise performed in Martin et al. (2005) that used estimated Supreme Court Justices’ ideal points to assess the conventional view that existed at the time (2005), that President George W. Bush would be able to remake the Court. The final application is a look at some important individual cases using the estimated ideal points. The NOMINATE method not only locates each Justice, the Attorney General and the Executive\'s Advocate in a unitary circle composed of two dimensions, but it also situates for each individual case a dividing line that represents the estimation of how these actors broke down in favor or against in that case. These diagrams make visually explicit the degree to which the ideal points explain the votes in each case and also show where it gets the votes wrong. One purpose of this application is to show how this method can be used by researchers to gain insights in specific seminal cases. One set of the cases we analyze is composed of the votes in the recent high-profile Mensalão scandal, where high level officials and politicians were tried and some condemned for a vote-buying scheme that was busted in 2005. The importance of this case lies in the fact that the Brazilian judiciary has historically been loath to punish the rich and powerful, opting instead for an excessive concern in guaranteeing fundamental rights and due process, which the accused have often been able to manipulate in their favor, leading to frequent impunity. The Mensalão trial broke all expectations by harshly condemning powerful and well-connected politicians and will probably become a watershed in the Supreme Court\'s history. It thus warrants a close examination of the votes using our ideal point estimates.