Self-enforcing legal limits: Bureaucratic constraints on repression under emergency powers

Tiberiu Dragu, Xiaochen Fan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Governments of all stripes have attempted to transgress ordinary legal limits and infringe upon rights and liberties under the cover of emergency powers. Are repressive policies adopted under emergency law less likely to comply with extant legal limits, as compared to repressive policies adopted under normal law? What are the mechanisms by which the potential abuse of emergency powers can be constrained? To answer these questions, we develop a game-theoretic model that builds upon the fact that political rulers rely on security agents to execute their repressive policies. We show that rulers always prefer to make policy under emergency law while security agents actually prefer the legal regime that incentivizes rulers to choose a policy more likely to comply with ordinary legal limits. Consequently, there is a potential endogenous constraint on the abuse of emergency powers given that rulers must rely on security agents to implement their repressive decisions.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)687-699
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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