Political and Judicial Checks on Corruption: Evidence from American State Governments

John E. Alt
David Dryer Lassen
EPRU Working Paper Series
Economic Policy Research Unit, Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen
August 2005

"The paper investigates the effects of checks and balances on corruption. Within a presidential system, effective separation of powers is achieved under divided government, with the executive and legislative branches being controlled by different political parties. When government is unified, no effective separation exists even within a presidential system, but, we argue, can be partially restored by having an accountable judiciary. Our empirical findings show that divided government and elected, rather than appointed, state supreme court judges are associated with lower corruption and, furthermore, that the effect of an accountable judiciary is stronger under unified government, where government cannot control itself."

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"Aristotle's solution was for politeia – a mixed constitution – and the modern equivalent of this is called demarchy. In a demarchic constitution (a) government ministers are appointed on merit alone and held to account by (b) a randomly-selected parliament, counselled by (c) a diverse and balanced chamber of independent advocates. This tripartite distinction (...

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Explaining the constitutional set-up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Morrisey discusses differences between the Constitution and the previous Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation had outlined a federal government in which all three powers—legislative, executive, and judicial—resided entirely in one Congress. This was...

Faust argues that a buildup of more power in the Federal Open Market Committee's ability to set interest rates ignores the logic of Checks and Balances.

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"The American constitutional system includes a notion known as the Separation of Powers. In this system, several branches of government are created and power is shared between them. At the same time, the powers of one branch can be challenged by another branch. This is what the system of checks and balances is all about.

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The House approved a pair of criminal and civil measures against the attorney...

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There are a variety of reasons the United States is still classified as limited: We don't live under totalitarianism, Congress and the states do pay their citizens a level of deference, and government officials are still sworn to uphold the Constitution. Even so, the U.S. government far exceeds not only the limited government structure libertarians prefer but also...

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Lawmakers, in turn, have threatened to hold subpoenaed officials in contempt of Congress.

Here are some questions and answers about the...

Chart or Graph

Indeed, as this diagram illustrates, the arms of government all serve as watchmen of the other branches.

This chart compares the Roman Republic's system of checks and balances to that of the United States.

Analysis Report White Paper

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De Jasay draws upon the Enlightenment philosophies of Hobbes and Montesquieu to explain his belief that checks and balances rely on more than just rational choice theory.

The American public tends to focus on the President's role in choosing judicial nominees and on the Senate's role in approving or vetoing them after nomination, but this is just the most public aspect of the power-sharing in our system of checks and balances when it comes to court appointments.

In the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, judicial checks and balances are often seen as crucial guarantees of freedom. Hayek distinguishes two ways in which the judiciary provides such checks and balances: judicial independence and constitutional review.

Underscoring the tremendous historical accomplishment of limited government, the handbook identifies the roots of free society as far back as the higher laws of the ancient Hebrews and Greeks.

Montesquieu is famously heralded for directly inspiring the framers of the United States Constitution. Zuckert re-examines Montesquieu's actual philosophy, highlighting the manner in which the founders internalized Montesquieu's thoughts in consistent and divergent ways that eventually translated into America's core framework.

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The separation of powers, the concept that the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government ought to be separate and distinct, is a central feature of the United States Constitution. Through this separation, each branch works according to its own authority, forming a check or balance against any abuse of power by the remaining two branches.

Appearing during the Reagan Administration in 1983, Olson's article discusses the Supreme Court's rejection of the legislative veto device--a decision Olson believes reinforced a proper understanding of checks and balances and halted what Olson identifies as an erosion of executive power.

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The United States Constitution was a dramatic revision of the earlier Articles of Confederation in that it established the powers of a national and federal government. What underlies this shift and what can the Federalist Papers tell us about the Federalists' motivations?

Meese relays why the Constitution of the United States, coupled with the philosophies of the Declaration of Independence, outlined the principles of America's unique and liberating government.

Video/Podcast/Media

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"The panelists talked about the concepts of checks and balances and balance of power. The federal government is designed in a manner that prevents one branch from overpowering the other two branches. The panelists talked about the breakdown of these checks in the modern system. They also talked about the role of the mainstream media in political discourse. After...

Primary Document

Blackstone's work is considered the most authoritative statement of the pre-American Revolution common law. It influenced the American founding documents, and continues to be a persuasive legal authority in the United States and other common law jurisdictions.

James Kent was an American legal scholar. Widely popular, his Commentaries consist of a series of lectures on the history of law, the American Constitution, federal and municipal law, and laws concerning persons and property.

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"The object of these essays is not to exhaust criticism of the government of the United States, but only to point out the most characteristic practical features of the federal system. Taking Congress as the central and predominant power of the system, their object is to illustrate everything Congressional. Everybody has seen, and critics without number have said,...

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"Taylor defends a strict 'states rights' interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and advocates limited republican government."

Niccolò Machiavelli's defense of republican principles. He argues for governments of the people because they are better than those of princes. His arguments have had great influence across the centuries and deeply influenced the American Founders.

"THIS book is a plea for the sacredness of the Constitution of the United States. I do not mean by this that I consider our Constitution, framed a hundred and twenty years ago, well suited to the needs of our existing government. Its rigid provisions, its system of checks and balances, are an obstacle to popular government, and they should be radically changed by...

"TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government...

"A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection. It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were...

"Responding to criticism about his proposal to restructure the Supreme Court, Roosevelt criticizes conservative judges who blocked important New Deal programs and advocates a restructuring of the judiciary. Ultimately, the President's plan deteriorates, but, nonetheless, Roosevelt was eventually able to reshape the court by appointing eight justices before his...

"Had the praise of History been passed over by former Chroniclers it would perhaps have been incumbent upon me to urge the choice and special study of records of this sort, as the readiest means men can have of correcting their knowledge of the past. But my predecessors have not been sparing in this respect. They have all begun and ended, so to speak, by enlarging...

Plutarch recounts the life of Sparta's legendary founder Lycurgu,s and the evolution of Spartan political and social institutions: "There is so much uncertainty in the accounts which historians have left us of Lycurgus, the lawgiver of Sparta, that scarcely anything is asserted by one of them which is not called into question or contradicted by the rest. Their...

The reflections of statesman Dr. James Henry, which have proven an excellent resource for historians seeking a first-hand account of the Federal Convention.

"Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, tonight I'd like to talk about how together we can deliver on that promise."

In this work, Bolingbroke advances the idea of separation of powers, particularly the necessity of achieving a balance between the king, parliament and the people.

Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. Although unfinished, it provided a foundation for many religious and secular institutions and proved very influential throughout the Middle Ages.

After the Pennsylvania Convention ratified the new constitution on December 12, 1787, by a vote of 46 to 23, twenty-one members of the minority signed a dissenting address that appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser....

"Probably written by a pupil of Aristotle, it is the first history of Athens as a model democracy, how it came into existence, and how it operated in practice."

Madison's Federalist #10 argues for a large and powerful republic to combat the problem of factions. He argues that factions were the cause of the downfall of the ancient democracies and small republics. The American Constitution, with this in mind, advocates a republican form of government that would solve the problem of factions and prevent internal strife while maintaining liberty.

"One of the principal objections inculcated by the more respectable adversaries to the Constitution, is its supposed violation of the political maxim, that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in favor of liberty. The...

The Laws, Plato's last and longest dialogue, is written as a conversation between three old men from different Greek cities.

Aristotle, one of the best known Western philosophers, concluded his work on ethics with the statement that he intended to look into "the whole question of the management of a state." The Politics was his effort to do so. He examines the origin and purpose of government, and then discusses Plato's The Republic and other proposed and existing forms of government.

This volume, written in dialogue format, is the original work of political idealism by one of the best-known Western philosophers.

"The great fundamental issue now before the Republican party and before our people can be stated briefly. It is: Are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves? I believe they are. My opponents do not. I believe in the right of the people to rule. I believe the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day...

"The purpose of this study is to trace the rise ami development of the bicameral system from its beginnings in Massachusetts to its incorporation into the Federal Constitution. The acknowledged importance and universal application of this principle of government would seem to warrant a study of the various steps and, in so far as may be, of the causes which led to...

Locke's Second Treatise develops his descriptions of the state of nature along with natural law. His work was extremely influential in the founding of America and its Constitution.

"Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. If I took into account only force, and the effects derived from it, I should say: 'As long as a people is compelled to...

Montesquieu was a significant advocate of separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and his discussion of law contributed significantly to the concept of rule of law.

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John Adams' suggestions for the formation of a new government in the North Carolina provincial congress.

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The Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted in 1776, heralds the inherent rights of man--rights the protection of which provides citizens the motivation to rebel against an unjust government.

George WashingtonPreparing to leave office, Washington wrote his now famous "Farewell Address" to placate American concerns that a country without his leadership could not survive. Washington stresses the importance of unity, the supremacy of the...

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