Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science

First Advisor

Kirk Randazzo


In the Federalist papers, Hamilton emphasized the vulnerability of courts as the weakest branch of government, lacking both the power of the "purse" and the "sword." Consequently, courts can secure compliance with their decisions only if people believe in the legitimacy of their actions. Courts that are seen as legitimate by the public can better prevent governmental overreach, enhance the rule of law, and protect democratic rights. However, there is no consensus on how to validly measure the legitimacy of courts. Additionally, existing research on legitimacy focuses on courts in the United States; we know little about judicial legitimacy in other countries. In this dissertation, I construct the Judicial Legitimacy Index (JLI), the first cross-national, time-series measure of public perceptions of judicial legitimacy for 150 countries from 1990 to 2020. The index is based on combining five indicators of judicial legitimacy—trust, compliance, participation, dissent, and commitment—collected from multiple sources, including cross-national surveys and government statistics. I then use the JLI to study two of the most important questions in comparative politics— what are the sources of judicial legitimacy and can courts be bulwarks of democracy and constrain authoritarian governments? The JLI developed through this dissertation will provide insights into how people view their national court systems and allow researchers to test whether theories of judicial politics, primarily developed for the US, can be applied to countries around the world.


© 2024, Rahul Hemrajani