Research in Progress


In a new, large, project I analyze the birth, development, and persistence of patronage networks within the Mexican Federal Judiciary in the last one hundred years. The project seeks to uncover the patronage networks created from 1917 to 1994, the authoritarian period when the Supreme Court hand-picked lower court judges, and to gauge their effects on the performance of the Judicial Council that selects judges on merit since 1995 after the transition to democracy. The broader goal is to understand what makes institutions work, what connects structure and agency, exploring the hidden bulk that lies underneath formal institutions: the norms, practices, and informal institutions that also shape individual’s behavior. The project starts with Mexico but will also include other countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica.

Some of the current working papers that are part of this project are:

“Identifying and Characterizing Patronage Networks in the Mexican Federal Judiciary, 1917-1994”. With Tod Van Gunten

“Authoritarian Legacies and Democratic Institutions: Persistent Patronage Networks and the Erosion of Merit-Based Judicial Selection in Mexico, 1917-2017”. With Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer

“Norms and Institutions Shaping the Judicial Career in Democratic Mexico, 1994-2019”. With Andrea Pozas-Loyo

“Nepotism: Concepts and Measures. Evidence from the Mexican Federal Judiciary”. With Luis Soto Tamayo


I continue working on the role of constitutional courts, and different aspects of what makes them effective, under democracy. I am now doing more work on these courts under authoritarian governments. Related to this stream of work is the analysis of authoritarian constitutionalism and rule by law. Some of the working papers are dormant (“D”).

“Constitutional Authoritarianism or Authoritarian Constitutionalism? Colombia’s Dual State Between 1949 and 1959” with Camilo Castillo Sánchez

“The Perils of Transparency: Public Deliberation and Judicial Decision Making in the Mexican Supreme Court, 2005-2015” with Jeffrey K. Staton. “D”

“Informal Institutions and De Facto Judicial Independence. A Comparison of Brazil and Mexico” with Andrea Pozas-Loyo


“The Trust Trap: Armed Forces, Internal Security, and Human Rights Violations in Latin America” with David Blanc and Javier Martínez Rodríguez