Judicial Reshufﬂes and Women Justices in Latin
Ignacio Arana Araya Carnegie Mellon University
Melanie M. Hughes University of Pittsburgh
Aníbal Pérez-Liñán University of Notre Dame
Abstract: Can weak judicial institutions facilitate the advancement of women to the high courts? We explore the relationship
between weak institutions and gender diversification by analyzing the consequences of judicial reshuffles in Latin America.
Our theory predicts that institutional disruptions will facilitate the appointment of women justices, but only when left
parties control the nomination process. We test this argument using difference-in-differences and dynamic panel models for
18 Latin American countries between 1961 and 2014. The analysis offers support for our hypothesis, but gains in gender
diversification are modest in size and hard to sustain over time. Political reshuffles may produce short-term advances for
women in the judiciary, but they do not represent a path to substantive progress in gender equality.
Verification Materials: The data and materials required to verify the computational reproducibility of the results, pro-
cedures, and analyses in this article are available on the American Journal of Political Science Dataverse within the
Harvard Dataverse Network, at: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/ZEKFG7.
Can weak institutions, by virtue of their weak-
ness, facilitate access of excluded groups into
positions of power? An important literature ar-
gues that weak institutions have negative consequences
for developing countries. Since politicians cannot assume
that rules will endure, they have few incentives to honor
intertemporal agreements (Levitsky and Murillo 2013;
O’Donnell 1994; Spiller and Tommasi 2007). However,
a growing research stream has linked institutional dis-
ruptions to women’s advancement to positions of power
(Campus 2013; Fallon, Swiss, and Viterna 2012; Hughes
and Tripp 2015; Montecinos 2017; O’Brien 2015; Tripp
2015). This research has not yet considered whether insti-
tutional disruption can explain gains for women justices
in the high courts.
We inquire into the relationship between deinstitu-
tionalization and gender equality by analyzing political
reshuffles of the judiciary. Latin America provides a use-
ful context to examine possible tensions between an in-
dependent judiciary and the rise of women to the high
courts. The region encompasses wide variation regard-
ing judicial purges (Helmke 2017). In parallel, the num-
ber of women justices has increased dramatically in re-
cent decades, from 3% of all justices in the region’s high
courts in 1980 to 19% in 2010.
Existing research rarely addresses the rise of Latin
American women in the judiciary. We know a great
deal about elected branches of government (Barnes
2016; Došek et al. 2017; Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-
Robinson 2016; Hinojosa 2012; Htun 2016; Reyes-
Housholder 2016; Schwindt-Bayer 2010). Yet, the ascent
of women justices has received little attention (for excep-
tions, see Basabe Serrano 2017; Driscoll and Nelson 2015;
Iñiguez de Salinas 2003). Studies of women in the judi-
ciary focus overwhelmingly on the United States (Bratton
and Spill 2002; Hoekstra, Kittilson, and Andrews 2014;
Holmes and Emrey 2006; Hurwitz and Lanier 2001;
Norris and Tankersley 2018; Williams 2007), contempo-
rary democracies (Bercholc 2016; Thames and Williams
2013; Valdini and Shortell 2016), and sub-Saharan Africa
Ignacio Arana Araya is Assistant Teaching Professor in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, Porter Hall
223E, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (email@example.com). Melanie M. Hughes is Professor, Department of Sociology,
University of Pittsburgh, 2611 WWPH, 230 S. Bouquet Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Aníbal Pérez-Liñán is Professor
of Political Science and Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame, 2060 Jenkins Nanovic Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556 (email@example.com).
Authors’ names are in alphabetical order. We are indebted to Julia Lauritzen for her valuable research assistance. This research was
supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0918886). Our findings and conclusions do not necessarily reflect the views of
American Journal of Political Science,Vol. 00, No. 0, xxxx 2020, Pp. 1–16
©2020, Midwest Political Science Association DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12543
2IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
(Bauer and Dawuni 2016; Bonthuys 2015; Dawuni and
We point to the convergence of two historical trends
with countervailing implications for democracy. On the
one hand, Latin American courts have been historically
subject to political reshuffles intended to curb their in-
dependence. On the other hand, leftist governments—
which experienced a surge in the 2000s—increasingly
appointed women jurists as part of progressive agendas
championing inclusion. We argue that when leftist gov-
ernments conduct political reshuffles, the opening of va-
cancies in the courts creates an opportunity for the ap-
pointment of more women. By disrupting the tenure of
men judges, the institutional capture of high courts al-
lows leftist governments to diversify the gender composi-
tion of the bench.
Understanding this complex phenomenon is crucial.
Gender equality can improve the quality of legal deci-
sions by increasing the diversity of ideas, values, and legal
styles (Besson 2005; Feenan 2008; Kenney 2013; Rack-
ley 2013). Women jurists are more likely to make deci-
sions that promote gender equality (Boyd 2016; Boyd,
Epstein, and Martin 2010; Dawuni 2016) and may de-
cide differently across cases (Collins, Manning, and Carp
2010). Their presence also brings institutional legiti-
macy to courts (Grossman 2012). At the same time,
women justices can only exercise power if courts are
In the next section, we discuss current explanations
for gender diversity in the courts. We then extend theo-
ries of institutional disruption to the judiciary. The fol-
lowing sections present empirical evidence. We analyze
supreme courts and constitutional tribunals in 18 Latin
American countries from 1961 to 2014 and test the the-
ory employing a difference-in-differences design and dy-
namic panel models. The results show that purges con-
ducted by left parties allowed for the incorporation of
women justices, but these gains were modest in size and
hard to sustain over the long run.
Scholars often articulate explanations for increasing gen-
der diversification in government in terms of supply and
demand (Paxton, Hughes, and Barnes, 2020). Supply-
side research emphasizes factors such as women’s edu-
cational attainment, workplace participation, and pres-
ence in professions like education, business, and law
(e.g., Fox and Lawless 2004; Paxton and Kunovich
2003; Stockemer and Byrne 2011). Students of the ju-
diciary have proxied the supply of women judges us-
ing fertility rates, labor force participation, and women’s
share of lawyers (Arrington 2018; Solberg and Bratton
2005; Thames and Williams 2013; Valdini and Shortell
2016; Williams and Thames 2008). However, research
has found little empirical support for supply-side ex-
planations of women’s success in the judiciary across
Demand-side research analyzes why women are re-
cruited from the aspirant pool. For instance, several au-
thors note that an increasing number of women legisla-
tors promote the advancement of women in the judiciary
(Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005; Thames
and Williams 2013; Williams and Thames 2008). To the
extent that they promote policies addressing gender is-
sues, legislators may also want high courts to protect
those policies. Cross-national research has found an em-
pirical correlation between women in the national leg-
islature and in the high courts (Hoekstra, Kittilson, and
Andrews 2014; Thames and Williams 2013; Williams and
Thames 2008). Along the same lines, women national
leaders may be more likely to nominate women to high
courts. Latin America, having now had 10 women pres-
idents in eight countries, allows us to examine whether
women chief executives appoint more women to the high
Institutional rules also shape the demand for women
in government (Paxton, Hughes, and Barnes 2020).
Scholars have focused on rules guiding judicial selection
(Alozie 1996; Blackwell 2017; Crandall 2014; Driscoll and
Nelson 2015; Valdini and Shortell 2016). Yet, there is no
consensus that any particular selector (legislature, exec-
utive, judiciary, or a combination therein) or method
(appointment or election) is superior. Some researchers
have found that appointed courts tend to be more di-
verse than elected ones (e.g., Bratton and Spill 2002;
Holmes and Emrey 2006; Williams and Thames 2008).
Others find that judicial elections benefit women (Hur-
witz and Lanier 2001; Reddick, Nelson, and Caufield
2009; Williams 2007). Given these competing results,
some conclude that women have been rising to high
courts regardless of the selection mechanism (Dawuni
and Kang 2015).
Another institutional factor that could explain
women’s access to the judiciary is gender quotas, both
for the legislature and for the judiciary (Hughes, Pax-
ton, and Krook 2017). Electoral quotas demand a cer-
tain percentage of women candidates or legislators
(Paxton and Hughes 2015), and they may have indi-
rect effects through the nomination process, as described
above (Hoekstra, Kittilson, and Andrews 2014; Williams
and Thames 2008).
JUDICIAL RESHUFFLES AND WOMEN JUSTICES 3
Judicial gender quotas have been enacted only in
a handful of countries (Hoekstra 2010; Piscopo 2015;
Schultz and Shaw 2013). In Latin America, Ecuador
was the first country to adopt a judicial quota in 1997,
mandating that superior courts and rosters of lower-
court judges, notaries, and registrars include at least
20% women (1997 Ley de Amparo Laboral de La Mujer,
art. 3). In 2005, the law was extended to include 20%
of judges on the Supreme Court. However, without
any mechanism to ensure the quota was met, the law
was ineffective. In 2008, the newly adopted constitution
mandated gender parity in all branches and levels of
government (Piscopo 2015). Still, it was not until 2012,
after the Judicial Council adopted explicit selection rules
that gave priority to women nominees, that Ecuador’s
high court became one of the few Latin American high
courts to approach gender equity (Basabe Serrano 2019).
Like Ecuador, Bolivia’s 2009 constitution established
gender parity across all institutions, including the courts.
However, Bolivia’s constitution adopted a unique model
of popular election for justices, and gender parity is
only guaranteed among candidates, not among those
elected (Ley N° 025 Ley del Órgano Judicial 2010; see
also Driscoll and Nelson 2012).
Societal attitudes toward women’s leadership influ-
ence both the supply of and demand for women in gov-
ernment (Paxton, Hughes, and Barnes 2020). Previous
research has shown that patterns of development af-
fect social expectations for women in positions of power
(Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005; Thames
and Williams 2013; Williams and Thames 2008). Norris
and Inglehart (2001) demonstrated that egalitarian at-
titudes toward women in office are more widespread in
postindustrial societies. Normative support for women’s
presence in decision-making positions has increased
globally, evidenced by the growth in women’s legislative
representation and the spread of gender quotas (Hughes,
Paxton, and Krook 2017). Similarly, Escobar-Lemmon
and Taylor-Robinson (2005) suggest that growing repre-
sentation of women in Latin American cabinets since the
mid-1990s reflects widespread normalization of women
Finally, some scholars argue that demand for women
in the judiciary is likely to be higher when left-leaning
leaders are in power (Hoekstra, Kittilson, and Andrews
2014; Krook and O’Brien 2012). Left-of-center politi-
cians defend egalitarian policies, including policies pro-
moting gender equality, and may receive more pressure
from women’s organizations. These studies draw from
research that links leftist parties to higher numbers of
women in national legislatures (Claveria 2014; Kenwor-
thy and Malami 1999; Matland 1993; Reynolds 1999)
and in executive cabinets (e.g., Davis 1997; Escobar-
Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005; Reyes-Housholder
2016; Reynolds 1999). To the extent that judicial ap-
pointments reflect the preferences of parties that con-
trol nomination, we might expect progressive politicians
to appoint more women to high courts (Basabe Serrano
However, the connection between women’s advance-
ment in institutional arenas and leftist parties may be
contingent on time and place. Historically, leftist par-
ties did not always advance women’s causes because
women tended to hold more conservative ideological po-
sitions than men (Inglehart and Norris 2000; Klausen
2001). Studies of the contemporary period show that left-
ist parties are not necessarily friendlier to women (Ar-
riola and Johnson 2014; Barnes 2016; Hughes and Tripp
2015; O’Brien 2015). In some countries, women have
achieved greater representation in right-leaning parties
If we look specifically at judicial nominations, evi-
dence of left party effects is mixed. Whereas researchers
have found a relation between leftist selectors and
women appointments at the U.S. federal and state levels
(Bratton and Spill 2002; Segal 2000), research on Western
Europe finds no systematic evidence that left-leaning se-
lectors are more likely to promote women to high courts
(Hoekstra, Kittilson, and Andrews 2014).
Institutional Disruption: Reshufﬂes,
Ideology, and Gender
Because much research on gender and the judiciary fo-
cuses on stable democracies, the literature has over-
looked one powerful source of change: institutional dis-
ruption. Students of advanced industrial democracies
treat institutions as stable constraints on political ac-
tors, which change rarely or slowly (Thelen 2004; Tsebelis
2002). Students of developing countries, in contrast, have
documented multiple patterns of institutional disrup-
tion, including interbranch conflicts (Helmke 2017), the
serial replacement of constitutions (Levitsky and Murillo
2013), and the use of constitutional change as an excuse
to purge the high courts (Pérez-Liñán and Castagnola
Analyses of institutional disruption underscore its
consequences for women. A study of 153 countries shows
that legislative interruptions—unconstitutional closures
of the legislature lasting more than 6 months—lead to
improvements in women’s representation once the leg-
islature is reopened (Hughes 2007). Gains for women in
4IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
politics are also linked to institutional disruptions caused
by the ending of civil wars, transitions to democracy,
electoral defeats, and scandals (Campus 2013; Fallon,
Swiss, and Viterna 2012; Hughes and Tripp 2015; Mon-
tecinos 2017; O’Brien 2015; Tripp 2015). Yet, research
has not yet considered whether institutional disruption
could explain gains for women in the high courts.
We focus our analysis on a distinctive form of in-
stitutional disruption in the judiciary: court reshuffles.
Reshuffles occur when governments induce the resigna-
tion of a majority of high court justices to gain con-
trol over constitutional interpretation (Castagnola and
Pérez-Liñán 2011; Pérez-Liñán and Castagnola 2009). By
replacing a large number of justices at once, reshuffles
eliminate a counter-majoritarian veto player with the ca-
pacity to obstruct the government’s agenda.
Our focus on reshuffles has a distinctive analytical
advantage: Reshuffles are easy to document and opera-
tionalize. Whereas selective purges of individual judges
can be difficult to distinguish from voluntary resigna-
tions, court reshuffles leave visible marks in the histor-
ical record. They involve situations in which a major-
ity of justices exits office simultaneously and before the
end of their terms. Although it is impossible to prove
why justices left office jointly in every historical circum-
stance, available studies suggest that political pressures
drove almost every reshuffle for which we have historical
evidence (Basabe Serrano and Polga-Hecimovich 2013;
Bowen 2017; Castagnola 2018; Castagnola and Pérez-
Liñán 2011; Helmke 2017).
Reshuffles are different from situations in which
multiple justices complete their constitutional terms con-
currently and leave office in the same year. They should
also be distinguished from episodes of court packing, in
which politicians gain control of the high courts by ex-
panding the number of seats, rather than by dismiss-
ing justices.1We leverage these conceptual distinctions to
identify placebo and robustness tests below.
Democratically elected leaders induce resignations
from the courts using tactics that include constitutional
reforms, impeachment, media exposés against justices,
and court-curbing legislation. Court reshuffles occur in
a variety of democratic contexts, but they usually re-
sult from realignments in executive power, changes in
legislative coalitions, interbranch conflict, or transitional
politics (Basabe Serrano and Polga-Hecimovich 2013;
Castagnola 2018; Helmke 2017). Sometimes reshuffles
are part of a modernizing agenda (e.g., Mexico in 1994),
1Reshuffles and packing overlap if an expansion of the court trig-
gers the resignation of several justices (e.g., Paraguay in 1968 or
Guatemala in 1994).
but most often they involve partisan attempts to take
over the courts. Castagnola (2018, 66) documents that
between 1900 and 2014, 63% of all retirements from the
Argentine Supreme Court reflected political pressures.
Not surprisingly, authoritarian rulers are also prone
to reshuffle the courts. Coups often trigger judicial
purges (e.g., Argentina in 1966 and 1976; Bolivia in 1964,
1978, 1979, and 1980; Chile in 1973; the Dominican Re-
public in 1963; Ecuador in 1972; El Salvador in 1979;
Honduras in 1972, 1975, and 1980; or Peru in 1975
and 1992). Authoritarian rulers may purge courts repeat-
edly (the Stroessner regime reshuffled the Paraguayan
Supreme Court in 1964, 1968, 1979, and 1988). More-
over, democratic and authoritarian governments often
reshuffle the courts after the adoption of new constitu-
tions (e.g., Bolivia in 1967 and 2009, the Dominican Re-
public in 1966, Guatemala in 1966 and 1986, Nicaragua
in 1987, Paraguay in 1968, Peru in 1980, or Venezuela in
1999) or major amendments (Chile in 2006, El Salvador
in 1994, or Guatemala in 1994).
Reshuffles can have unexpected consequences for
women. For example, a 1991 constitutional reform man-
dated a change in the length of terms and appointment
procedures for Supreme Court justices in El Salvador. In
1994, the Calderón Sol administration took advantage of
this opportunity to reshuffle the Court, replacing justices
appointed between 1982 and 1989. “In this manner, an
obstructionist president of the Supreme Court was re-
moved from office and a new slate of magistrates was able
to be named with minimal influence from the military. In
practice, however, the appointment of new magistrates
remained highly politicized and partisan” (Bowen 2017,
135). Yet, for the first time, El Salvador appointed two
In late 2004, President Lucio Gutiérrez accused
the Ecuadorian courts of favoring the opposition. The
pro-government Congress removed all members of the
Constitutional Tribunal, the Supreme Court, and the
Electoral Court without following proper impeachment
procedures and appointed new members through leg-
islative resolutions. This action sparked mass protests.
In April 2005, yielding to demonstrators, Gutiérrez
dismissed the new Supreme Court by decree. Congress
removed him from office 5 days later (Grijalva 2010,
chap. 2). Following this attack on the courts, “Ecuador
revised its Organic Law for the judiciary, and […] es-
tablished a judicial selection committee that agreed to a
20% quota for women on the Supreme Court” (Hoekstra
2010, 479). However, the reshuffles had not displaced the
old guard. The president of the committee, backed by
men judges, downplayed the quota law, selecting women
judges as only 6% of the Court (UN CEDAW 2007).
JUDICIAL RESHUFFLES AND WOMEN JUSTICES 5
The previous examples illustrate that reshuffles can
create unexpected opportunities for women in the high
courts. Although reshuffles undermine judicial inde-
pendence, they also represent major episodes of elite
turnover. By forcing the opening of multiple vacancies,
purges create a window for the entrance of women into
the top echelons of the legal system.
However, institutional disruption alone cannot guar-
antee the advancement of women or other excluded
groups. The breakdown of extant institutional arrange-
ments facilitates the circulation of elites, but the new
composition of reshuffled institutions depends on ad-
ditional factors. For example, Hughes and Tripp (2015)
find that the end of civil wars facilitated an increase
in women’s legislative representation in Africa, but only
in the twenty-first century, when international forces
promoted greater political inclusion. In the case of ju-
dicial appointments, the preferences of political actors
nominating justices are crucial to determine gender out-
comes. If political actors have few incentives to nominate
women, reshuffles will not produce greater diversity.
We contend that in the aftermath of a court reshuffle,
leftist governments have stronger motivations than other
governments to diversify the courts for at least two rea-
sons. First, reshuffles give leftist parties an opportunity to
prove their ideological commitment to gender equality.
Drawing from legislative politics, we know that women
benefit from selection procedures that encourage balanc-
ing among multiple candidates, making all-men slates
easy to spot. After a reshuffle, governments choose multi-
ple judges at once and therefore are subject to the balanc-
ing pressures we observe in electoral lists. Because left-
ist parties are more exposed to constituency pressures—
including those from women’s organizations—incentives
to appoint women justices should be particularly high for
leftist administrations that champion egalitarian policies.
Second, leftist governments may appoint women
justices for strategic reasons, engaging in an “inclusion
calculation” (Valdini 2019). The appointment of women
allows leftist governments to bring legitimacy to a power
grab, enables them to control the narrative, and diverts
attention from their efforts to limit the independence
of the judiciary. Governments may hope that media, ac-
tivists, and international partners will focus more on the
historic advances of women rather than the government’s
efforts to weaken the courts. In contrast, right-wing gov-
ernments have fewer ideological commitments to ad-
vancing women’s leadership, making it more difficult to
justify judicial purges with diversity claims.
The two motivations—sincere incentives versus
strategic calculations—could work jointly or indepen-
dently. We do not try to adjudicate between these mo-
tivations, which are observationally equivalent: They
emphasize that leftist governments are more likely to use
judicial reshuffles to appoint women to the high courts.
Leftist ideology has been particularly salient in Latin
America, experiencing a rise of left-leaning political
leadership in the late 1990s and early 2000s—the “Pink
Tide.” During this period, leftist presidents led more than
half of the countries, often supported by left-leaning
legislatures. Although these governments sometimes
struggled to advance women’s legislative representation
(Friedman 2009; Funk, Hinojosa, and Piscopo 2017),
leftist presidents have had greater success promoting
women in institutions where they have greater say, such
as in executive cabinets (Basabe Serrano 2020; Escobar-
Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005). We expect to see
similar benefits for women jurists in the aftermath of
a court reshuffle. Therefore, we hypothesize that high
court reshuffles will produce an increase in the proportion
of women justices when conducted by left governments.
Another example from Ecuador illustrates our argu-
ment. President Rafael Correa came to power in 2007
after campaigning as an advocate for “Socialism of the
21st century.” Correa was a Catholic who opposed abor-
tion and favored traditional family roles with a “mod-
ern economic man,” but he campaigned on the claim
that his citizens’ revolution had “a woman’s face” (Lind
2012, 255). Shortly after his election, a constituent as-
sembly led by Correa’s party adopted a new constitution.
The new charter replaced the old Supreme Court with
a 21-member National Court of Justice and mandated
the Judicial Council to pursue gender parity in nomina-
tions (article 183). The court reshuffle became effective
in 2012, when the pro-government Judicial Council re-
placed the all-men Supreme Court with a National Court
composed by 43% of women jurists. “As far as we have
been informed, our National Court of Justice is the only
one in the world that has been formed in an equitable
manner,” said Correa (Ministry of Justice, Human Rights
and Cults 2014).
Even if high court reshuffles conducted by leftist
governments produce an increase in the proportion
of women justices in the short run, it is important to
determine whether this contribution persists over the
long run. We remain agnostic on this point. On the
one hand, if left parties appoint women for strategic
reasons, it is possible that advances will fade away in
the aftermath of reshuffles, as women justices retire over
time and new (men) justices are appointed. On the other
hand, as suggested by some of the previous examples,
some reshuffles may involve the adoption of gender
quotas with long-term effects. Furthermore, it is equally
possible that court reshuffles will undermine judicial
6IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
independence, weakening the standing of high courts
and thus reducing women’s barriers to entry. We explore
these possibilities below.
To test the hypothesis, our sample covers 18 Latin Amer-
ican countries between 1961 and 2014. The countries
are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa
Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador,
Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama,
Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Historical cov-
erage begins in 1961, when the first Latin American
woman joined the Mexican Supreme Court. Because nine
countries have separate supreme courts and constitu-
tional tribunals, our sample contains information for 26
different courts. The unit of analysis is thus the country-
court-year (N =1,172). The dependent variable captures
the percentage of women justices in a supreme court or
constitutional tribunal by the end of the year. It ranges
between 0% and 100% (Bolivia’s Constitutional Court in
2008–9, when Silvia Salame was the only acting judge).
Reshuffle is a dichotomous measure capturing irregular
episodes of court renewal (95 episodes in 1961–2014). It
court, unless justices served for fixed terms in office and
their terms ended concurrently in that year (Castagnola
2018; Castagnola and Pérez-Liñán 2011). Reshuffles took
place under all regime types: 41% under authoritarian-
ism, 33% in semi-democracies, and 26% in democracies
(Mainwaring, Brinks, and Pérez-Liñán 2007).
Left Government takes a value of 1 when the ideol-
ogy of the president is on the left, 0 otherwise. We cre-
ated this variable combining ideology measures by Arana
(2017), Murillo, Oliveros, and Vaishnav (2010), Lodola
and Queirolo (2005), and Coppedge (1997). We coded
as leftists all heads of state whose average score was less
than 2.5 in a 5-point left–right scale (about 19% of lead-
ers in the sample).2Left governments orchestrated 20
reshuffles, equivalent to 8% of court-years under pro-
gressive administrations. Non-left governments experi-
enced a similar rate of reshuffling.
The coding of Reshuffle and Left Government in
dichotomous form allows for the estimation of a
2See page 3 of the supporting information (SI) for a list of left
difference-in-differences model presented in the next
section. However, we show in the supporting informa-
tion (p. 6) that continuous measures produce equivalent
results. To account for the conditional effect anticipated
by our hypothesis, models incorporate the interaction
Supply: Women’s Education
Women’s Schooling captures the average years of school-
ing attained in a country, based on Barro and Lee (2013).
Because data are reported at 5-year intervals for 1950–
2010, we interpolated between lustrums and extrapolated
for 2011–14. Scores range from 1.2 (Guatemala in 1961)
to 10.7 (Colombia in 2014). Wom en Lawyers measures
the “supply” of women in the legal profession. The val-
ues represent series on the percentage of women lawyers
in each country, based on Michelson (2013). The SI
(p. 4) provides details on the estimation of missing fig-
ures and reliability of this measure for early years. Values
in our sample range from 5.9% to 63.5%.
Demand: Women in Government
Women in Congress measures the percentage of women
legislators in the lower (or only) house, and it ranges
from 0% (Paraguay in 1993 and 1998) to 53.1% (Bo-
livia in 2014). This variable is taken from Hughes, Pax-
ton, and Krook (2017). Woman President takes a value
of 1 when the head of state was a woman and 0 other-
wise. Since women have been elected as presidents in a
handful of countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile,
Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama—their administra-
tions cover only 4% of the observations. Legislative Quota
is a dichotomous indicator reflecting periods (27% of
the court-years in our sample) when gender quotas were
in place for legislative elections (Hughes, Paxton, and
Krook 2017). Judicial Quota is a dichotomous variable
that captures the adoption of formal judicial quotas in
Ecuador since 2005 and Bolivia since the 2011 judicial
To account for traditional explanations focusing on
the courts’ institutional design, we use three dichoto-
mous variables that capture who appoints judges. Pres-
ident captures whether the head of state participates in
the nomination. This occurred in 45% of the country-
court-years in the sample. Congress captures whether the
legislature intervenes in appointments (39% of the ob-
servations). Finally, Council measures when a judicial
JUDICIAL RESHUFFLES AND WOMEN JUSTICES 7
council nominates or appoints justices (14% of the
observations). These categories are not mutually exclu-
sive; where several institutions participate in the pro-
cess (e.g., the president nominates and the congress con-
firms), more than one indicator receives a value of 1.
Life Tenure is a dichotomous variable capturing
when justices are not limited by fixed terms in office. Life
terms may delay the renewal of courts and thus preserve
gender inequalities. This applies to only 25% of the ob-
servations. Finally, Size controls for the number of mem-
bers in the court. Larger courts may easily accommodate
more diversity. This variable ranges from 3 (Supreme
Court of Paraguay, 1947–67) to 33 (Supreme Tribunal of
Justice in Brazil since 1989), with a mean of 12 members
(data from Pérez-Liñán and Castagnola 2016).
Supply and Demand: Cultural and
Sexism measures levels of sexism for countries in the
sample. The World Values Survey asks respondents
whether they agree with the statement “On the whole,
men make better political leaders than women do.” Av-
erage scores for particular country-years range from 0
(strongly disagree)to4(strongly agree). We employed
a latent growth curve model to estimate scores for all
country-years in the sample. Details of this variable are
available in the SI (pp. 3–4).
The Women Civil Society Participation Index, de-
alternative measure of cultural trends (Coppedge et al.
2011). The index results from a Bayesian factor analy-
sis of indicators for freedom of discussion for women,
women’s participation in civil society organizations, and
the role of women journalists (based on surveys of coun-
try experts). Scores range from 0 (women are highly con-
strained)to1(women have the ability to participate). We
also incorporate Varieties of Democracy’s index of Elec-
1(democratic; Coppedge et al. 2011).
Judicial Independence (Linzer and Staton 2015) is a
composite measure of de facto judicial independence. It
ranges between 3.9 (Nicaragua in 1961) and 93 (Chile in
2007). Political elites usually attempt reshuffles when the
judiciary is partially independent, to maximize chances
of success. In the sample, 61 reshuffles took place within
one standard deviation of the mean (between 24 and 65).
Only two reshuffles took place one standard deviation
above the mean, and 31 occurred one standard deviation
below the mean. Women may confront lower barriers of
entry if courts are not independent.
Figure 1 plots the evolution of the dependent variable
for all high courts in our sample. The figure also marks
with vertical lines the timing of judicial reshuffles. The
evidence indicates that a large number of reshuffles in
the twentieth century did not bring improvements in
women’s access to the high courts, consistent with the
expectation of the conditional effects of institutional
As an initial assessment of judicial purges con-
ducted by left governments, we employ a difference-in-
differences (DD) estimator, reported in Table 1.3The
treatment is defined by the interaction Reshuffle ×Left,
but we cannot know with certainty the duration of the
effects since justices retire over time. Thus, we estimate
tion of women in the court is estimated 1 year after the
reshuffle. In Model 1.2, the treatment is presumed to
presumed to last a decade. The model includes dichoto-
mous variables to identify subjects (courts) and periods
Table 1 indicates that judicial reshuffles conducted
by left governments expand the number of women in the
court by a significant percentage (about 5% on average
in the aftermath of the purge).4The DD estimates also
possibly as a result of attrition. This pattern is consistent
with a dynamic process in which the number of women
in the court is boosted by political intervention, but con-
verges to a steady level over the long run. We explore this
possibility in the next section.
Dynamic Panel Models
Since the gender composition of high courts does not
change rapidly, the percentage of women justices in any
given year has a correlation of .89 with the previous year.
To account for this fact, we estimate dynamic panel mod-
els, which include a 1-year lag of the dependent variable.
Table 2 presents four dynamic models. In contrast
to DD estimates presented in Table 1, dynamic panel
models explicitly allow us to disentangle the conditional
3Figure 1 supports the assumption of parallel (flat) trajectories
prior to most reshuffles.
4Left governments were no less likely to purge women. Women
represented 3% of justices purged by the non-left and 6% of those
purged by the left. However, left parties were more likely to nom-
inate women (11% of post-reshuffle appointments vs. 7% of the
8IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
FIGURE 1 Percentage of Women in Latin American High Courts, 1961–2014
Note: SC: Supreme Court; CT: Constitutional Tribunal; STF: Supremo Tribunal Federal; STJ: Supremo Tribunal de Justiça.
effect of reshuffles under left governments from the net
effects of reshuffles or left administrations. Thus, Models
2.1 and 2.2 report the unconditional effects of Reshuf-
fle and Left Government, and Models 2.3 and 2.4 report
fully specified models including the interaction term. All
models incorporate the control variables discussed in the
For robustness, we employ two alternative estima-
tors. Models 2.1 and 2.3 account for the panel structure
using fixed effects at the court level and for autocorrela-
tion using an ar(1) error structure. Given the long series
analyzed, we are unconcerned with potential bias created
by the correlation of residuals with the lagged dependent
variable (Nickell 1981). However, to address this issue,
JUDICIAL RESHUFFLES AND WOMEN JUSTICES 9
TABLE 1 Difference-in-Differences Estimator
(1.1) (1.2) (1.3)
Length of treatment 1 year 5 years 10 years
Effect of Reshuffle ×Left 4.96∗3.05∗∗ 2.01∗
(2.01) (1.11) (0.96)
N 1,172 1,172 1,172
Note: Dependent variable is the proportion of women in the high
courts. Entries in parentheses are standard errors. Court and year
indicators are not reported.
we replicate the analysis using the generalized method
of moments (GMM) in Models 2.2 and 2.4 (Alvarez and
Arellano 2003; Arellano and Bond 1991). This strategy
instruments the lagged dependent variable using earlier
lags and first differences of the exogenous predictors.5
Both estimators produce equivalent results, reinforc-
ing our confidence in the findings. While Reshuffle has a
significant effect in Models 2.1 and 2.2 (p <.01), the un-
conditional effect of Left Government is not significant
in any model. In other words, there is no evidence that
progressive governments appoint more women to the ju-
diciary, but institutional reshuffles help to diversify the
The interaction between Reshuffle and Left presented
in Models 2.3 and 2.4 provides strong support for our
hypothesis, with estimates similar in magnitude to those
in Table 1. Court reshuffles have no significant impact
on the number of women justices when the administra-
tion is not on the left, but they expand the percentage of
women by about 5% when leftist governments conduct
the purges. The marginal effect of left reshuffles is 4.5% in
Model 2.3 and 5.2% in Model 2.4.
Interpretation of these findings requires three ad-
ditional considerations. First, although the marginal ef-
fects support our hypothesis, the impact of reshuffles on
women’s advancement is substantively small. In a 19-
member supreme court, a purge conducted by a leftist
government produces one additional woman justice on
average (0.052 ×19, from Model 2.4).
Second, as suggested by Table 1, even these moderate
gains may recede within a few years. The coefficient for
the lagged dependent variable is .62 and .67 in Models
2.3 and 2.4, indicating a rapid dissipation of the shock
and a possible return to the gendered “equilibrium” of
5A robust estimator generated similar results. In Model 2.2, the
Arellano-Bond test for zero autocorrelation is significant (p <
.01) for first-order, but not for second-order residuals (p =.22),
indicating that the assumptions of the instrumental model are
TABLE 2 Dynamic Models of Women in High
(2.1) (2.2) (2.3) (2.4)
FE GMM FE GMM
Reshuffle 1.62∗∗ 1.85∗∗ 0.91 0.92
(0.62) (0.63) (0.69) (0.71)
Left Government 0.97 0.66 0.68 0.33
(0.54) (0.54) (0.54) (0.55)
Reshuffle ×Left 3.57∗4.31∗∗
Women’s Schooling 1.44∗∗ 1.88∗∗ 1.50∗∗ 1.94∗∗
(0.48) (0.55) (0.47) (0.55)
Lawyers 0.20∗0.10 0.19∗0.10
(0.09) (0.14) (0.09) (0.14)
Women in Congress 0.05 0.05 0.05 0.06
(0.05) (0.05) (0.05) (0.05)
Woman President 2.61∗1.55 2.51∗1.46
(1.02) (0.89) (1.01) (0.89)
Judicial Quota 4.70∗∗ 5.40∗∗ 4.43∗∗ 5.11∗∗
(1.71) (1.63) (1.70) (1.63)
Legislative Quota 1.19 1.41 1.17 1.40
(0.80) (0.87) (0.79) (0.87)
Appointed by President 1.29 3.47 1.20 2.67
(1.93) (3.94) (1.90) (3.95)
Appointed by Council 1.72 4.29 1.61 3.76
(1.46) (2.39) (1.44) (2.40)
Appointed by Congress 0.68 3.19 0.71 2.77
(1.67) (2.62) (1.64) (2.62)
Life Tenure 0.93 2.57 0.98 2.60
(1.42) (2.01) (1.40) (2.01)
Size of the Court 0.09 0.05 0.09 0.07
(0.09) (0.12) (0.09) (0.12)
Sexism 3.75 3.37 4.33 3.78
(3.10) (3.87) (3.09) (3.88)
Participation –2.08 –6.21 –1.66 –5.96
(3.03) (3.68) (2.99) (3.68)
Judicial Independence –4.66 –7.51∗–4.74 –7.78∗
(2.69) (3.60) (2.66) (3.60)
Electoral Democracy 1.58 4.19 1.49 4.16
(2.34) (2.88) (2.31) (2.87)
Women Justices (t–1) 0.62∗∗ 0.68∗∗ 0.62∗∗ 0.67∗∗
(0.03) (0.02) (0.02) (0.02)
Constant –18.74∗–18.48 –20.32∗–19.19
(7.94) (12.36) (8.02) (12.36)
N 1,136 1,152 1,136 1,152
Rho 0.17 0.16
Note: Dependent variable is the proportion of women in the high
courts. Entries in parentheses are standard errors.
10 IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
TABLE 3 Short- and Long-Term Effects of Judicial Reshuffles
Model Short-Term Marginal Effect (Standard Error) Long-Run Multiplier (Standard Error)
2.3 Fixed Effects 4.48∗∗ (1.34) 11.92∗∗ (3.65)
2.4 GMM 5.23∗∗ (1.32) 16.08∗∗ (4.21)
2.3 Fixed Effects 0.91 (0.69) 2.41 (1.84)
2.4 GMM 0.92 (0.71) 2.82 (2.18)
Note: Dependent variable is the proportion of women in the higher courts. Estimates are based on Table 2.
the court. (Within 5 years, the initial impact of 5.2% in
Model 2.4 declines to 0.73%, or 5.2 ×0.675.)
Third, however, even if the initial number of women
justices appointed in the aftermath of a purge declines
over time, the cumulative contribution of a reshuffle
is greater than the initial 5% increase in the share of
women. Because the new composition of the court re-
mains in place (albeit at a declining rate, due to attrition)
over several years, the total contribution of a reshuffle—
vis-à-vis the counterfactual of an unpurged court—must
be estimated over time. The long-run multiplier for the
effect of reshuffles in Model 2.3 indicates a cumulative
gain of 12% in the percentage of women justices over the
long term (4.5/(1 – 0.62)).
Table 3 compares the marginal effect of purges con-
ducted by governments on the left and on the right of
the political spectrum, in the short run and over the long
run, based on estimates from Models 2.3 (fixed effects
with autoregressive error) and 2.4 (GMM).
Only purges conducted by the left expand the num-
ber of women justices. The long-term effects of left
reshuffles are substantially greater than their immediate
effects, but reshuffles fall short of any major transforma-
tion toward gender parity.
Estimates for other variables provide support for de-
mand and supply explanations. On the demand side,
women executives and judicial quotas promote the ap-
pointment of women in high courts.6On the supply
side, whereas women’s years of schooling are statistically
significant in all models, the proxy for the percentage
of women in the legal profession is only significant in
Models 2.1 and 2.3. These findings confirm that the pres-
ence of women in high courts is likely to increase in a sus-
6Controlling for judicial quotas would introduce posttreatment
bias if politicians legitimize reshuffles through the adoption of
quotas. Results are similar if we remove this control.
tained manner when there is a verifiable advancement of
women in society.
We find little support for explanations based on ap-
pointment procedures. This result contrasts with prior
comparative findings (e.g., Valdini and Shortell 2016),
possibly because almost every selection procedure is “ex-
posed” to credit claiming in Latin America. In contrast,
judicial independence is negatively related to the propor-
tion of women in high courts. This is consistent with
our thesis: Strong unelected institutions delay the entry
of new actors to positions of power. Political reshuffles
undermine judicial independence but also lead to court
Robustness and Placebo Tests
To probe on the theorized mechanisms, we developed a
set of ancillary tests. These tests show that episodes of
court packing (which pursue the formation of new parti-
san majorities in the court by adding seats rather than
by removing judges) follow the same pattern of court
reshuffles. In contrast, episodes in which a majority of
justices end their constitutional terms concurrently do
not lead to the nomination of more women. Due to lim-
ited space, we present the details of this analysis as part
of the SI (pp. 5–8). The tests also show that using contin-
uous measures of ideology or judicial turnover does not
alter our main findings.
Figure 2 compares the short-term marginal effects of
reshuffles (Figure 2.1, based on Model 2.3 and Table 3),
court-packing events (Figure 2.2, based on SI Model 4.1),
and the end of concurrent terms (Figure 2.3, based on
SI Model 4.3). Left governments appoint more women
only in the aftermath of purges and packing events, rein-
forcing our claim that the nomination of more women
reflects not just the opportunity created by open seats,
but also the incentives to legitimize an action against the
JUDICIAL RESHUFFLES AND WOMEN JUSTICES 11
FIGURE 2 Marginal Effects of Court Renewal on Percentage
of Women in High Courts
Note:Reshuffles are defined as episodes in which a majority of justices leave the court with-
out their terms formally ending (Model 2.3); in packing episodes, the size of the court is
enlarged by at least 20% (SI Model 4.1); concurrent terms indicates that a majority of jus-
tices left the court because their terms ended concurrently in a given year (SI Model 4.3).
Bars reflect 95% confidence interval.
Conclusion and Contributions
Our understanding of the processes that have diversi-
fied high courts has been mostly limited to supply- and
demand-side factors that facilitate women’s inclusion in
stable democracies. This study shows that judicial purges,
a common event in weakly institutionalized democracies,
can advance women’s representation on the bench. Al-
though political reshuffles undermine the strength and
independence of the judiciary, they may also be a vehicle
for women’s ascension to the high courts.
However, not every political purge has positive ef-
fects for women. Only leftist governments have used
reshuffles consistently to promote women to the highest
courts. Moreover, our results urge strong caution in ad-
vocating court purges as a strategy for gender advance-
ment. Gains are substantively modest—an average in-
crease of about 5% in women justices in the aftermath
of a purge—and are not sustainable over the long run.
Why do judicial purges by left governments in-
crease women’s representation on high courts? Judicial
purges remove what is often the single largest obstacle
to women: incumbent men. Faced with an entire high
court to populate, selectors may perceive that there is
more space to include women judges. After a purge, some
elite men judges may also see the court as diminished
in power and thus as a less desirable posting, reducing
the supply of qualified men replacements. Under these
circumstances, judicial reshuffles lower the barriers for
women to enter, and left governments take advantage of
the opportunity to bring greater balance to the court.
Women’s rise could also be explained by increasing
demand for women justices. That is, after a court reshuf-
fle, women judicial nominees may become more appeal-
ing. Activists could take advantage of moments of crisis
to ramp up pressure on governments to include women
in decision-making positions. In the midst of a reshuffle,
operative than men—and therefore may be more pliable
and less likely to exercise checks on executive power—
tively, the perception that women are less corrupt may
make them particularly attractive nominees after an ex-
ecutive power grab, when leading governments want to
reestablish the notion that their judiciary is fair and
12 IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
independent. Indeed, increasing women’s numbers may
be a political calculation on the part of left parties de-
signed to distract from government actions criticized as
Our data do not allow us to uncover the true motives
of leftist governments. However, we do gain analytical
leverage by comparing the effects of purges and court
packing to the effects of more democratic forms of
turnover—when the majority of justices end their con-
stitutional terms concurrently. That only purges and
court packing result in gains for women judges suggests
that left governments do not take every opportunity
they can to increase women’s representation. Instead,
we see evidence that left government power grabs make
incumbents more vulnerable to domestic or interna-
tional pressures to diversify courts, and that left parties
choose women justices, which allows them to appear
more inclusive at a moment when they are acting to
undermine the independence of the judiciary. Further
research should examine these mechanisms more closely.
Our findings contribute to four bodies of literature.
First, we have extended prior arguments about the gen-
dered effects of institutional disruption to the judiciary.
Preceding cross-national research on legislative repre-
sentation found that women are more politically suc-
cessful after legislative interruptions (Hughes 2007), civil
wars (Hughes and Tripp 2015; Tripp 2015), democratic
transitions (Fallon, Swiss, and Viterna 2012; Montecinos
2017), and major electoral defeats and corruption scan-
dals (Campus 2013; O’Brien 2015). Evidence from judi-
cial reshuffles in Latin America shows for the first time
that institutional disruptions may benefit women at the
highest levels of the judiciary.
Second, our study contributes to debates about the
role of leftist political parties in advancing women’s
rights and representation. Scholars have considered how
Latin American left governments shaped feminist poli-
cies (Blofield, Ewig, and Piscopo 2017; Friedman 2009;
Heumann 2014; Kampwirth 2008; Lind 2012; Lind and
Keating 2013) and women’s legislative office (Friedman
2009; Funk, Hinojosa, and Piscopo 2017). Our results
comport with much of this research in finding that party
ideology matters in some cases but not in others. On its
own, rule by a left-leaning government is insufficient to
drive gains in women’s representation on Latin Ameri-
can high courts, but political ideology is an important
Third, our research contributes to scholarship on
anti-democratic forces and women’s rights and repre-
sentation. In legislative politics, scholars have argued
that authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes ele-
vate women’s presence in legislatures to distract from
their democratic failures (Reyntjens 2010). Advancing
women’s rights is seen as a safer route to democratization
than real power sharing (Donno and Kreft 2019). Even in
the least democratic contexts, advancing women’s rights
and representation can earn governments praise from the
international community (Bush 2011; Towns 2012). Our
results on judicial purges suggest that leftist governments
may also see the reputational benefits associated with ad-
vancement of women. In the midst of criticism from in-
ternational organizations, foreign governments, and hu-
man rights activists, who see court reshuffles as a threat
to democracy, making advances in women’s representa-
tion on high courts could shift the narrative in a positive
direction, providing legitimacy and stability.
Finally, our study contributes to the nascent litera-
ture on weak institutions (Holland 2016; Levitsky and
Murillo 2013), showing that, under certain conditions,
they facilitate the entrance of new players into power.
However, institutional weakness may also undermine
these gains over the long run. Research on legislative
disruptions suggests that nondemocratic routes to elite
turnover can undermine women’s political advancement
if they are too frequent (Hughes 2007). Our study sug-
gests a similar pattern: In the absence of deeper social
transformations, women’s gains in the higher courts may
be limited and hard to sustain, and may not truly rep-
resent substantive progress. Future empirical research
could profit from identifying the circumstances in which
the advancement of women justices reflects a progression
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16 IGNACIO ARANA ARAYA, MELANIE M. HUGHES, AND ANÍBAL PÉREZ-LIÑÁN
Additional supporting information may be found online
in the Supporting Information section at the end of the
Appendix 1: Indices
Appendix 2: Robustness and Placebo Tests