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Judicial Responses to Noncompliance: The Creation and Development of the Austrian Constitutional Court's Mediensprecher

Comparative Politics
Jay Krehbiel
West Virginia University
Jay Krehbiel
West Virginia University

An independent judiciary capable of effectively exercising constitutional review has increasingly become a hallmark of modern liberal democracy. Tasked with ensuring that the actions of government officials do not exceed constitutional bounds, constitutional courts serve to protect citizens from the state and uphold the constitutional order. The ability of courts to do so, however, is inherently constrained by their lacking power over the sword or the purse. Moreover, rising populism and its accompanying critique of the counter-majoritarian nature of judicial review pose a challenge for the efficacy of constitutional courts. In this paper, I argue that one response to these challenges is to improve a court's relationship with the public through the establishment and strategic use of media or press relations offices. Building on the comparative politics literature on the role of public support, public awareness, and press relations for the efficacy of constitutional review, I argue that courts can create media relations offices in response to attacks against judicial legitimacy. Without press relations, a court has limited tools available for responding to political attacks and criticisms of its decisions that can undermine the court's public image. By allowing a court to directly influence media coverage, and thereby public perception, of its decisions, media relations provide a solution to this problem. To develop and illustrate my argument, I examine the case of the Austrian Constitutional Court and the creation of its media spokesman, the Mediensprecher, as a response to the Court's long-running conflict with the state government of Carinthia known as the Ortstafelstreit. An empirical analysis of all the press releases issued by the Mediensprecher supports the strategic account of media relations, with the results indicating that political factors, in addition to case characteristics, lead to an increased likelihood of a press release.
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