High-end demand : markets for legal services and pressure for judicial autonomy in urban China
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Most scholars of comparative judicial politics suggest that judicial autonomy emerges from various forms of democratic competition or from a need to assuage the concerns of those investing capital in countries controlled by authoritarian regimes. In an authoritarian political system where the Party-State has historically sought to monopolize control over judicial selection and promotion, how can we explain reforms that increase the degree of merit-based competition, the statutory basis of written judicial opinions, the level of court transparency, and overall judicial autonomy in courts? Challenging prevailing theories regarding the relationship between economic development and rule of law, I argue that the particular patterns of local variation in judicial autonomy across urban China can be traced in part to differences in local markets for professional legal services: if qualified, mid-ranking judges can easily quit their jobs and find lucrative local employment as lawyers, court leaders are more likely to strategically reform promotion mechanisms in an attempt to retain these young—yet nonetheless, experienced—judges. These findings are based on nearly 15 months of in-country fieldwork, conducted between 2012-2014, that included 49 interviews with judges across 3 different case study cities: Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu. Employing the subnational comparative method, this article not only builds theory regarding the emergence of rule of law in authoritarian states, it also offers new empirical detail regarding the promotion, performance evaluation, and behavior of judges in urban China.