Changing Dynamics: The Political Impact of Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court

  • Bruce M. Wilson
Part of the Studies of the Americas book series (STAM)


Immediately after its creation in 1989, the new constitutional court (Sala Constitucional, or Sala IV) became a major actor in Costa Rican politics and one of the most influential and activist courts in Latin America. The constitutional amendment that created the court sparked a judicial revolution that shook the country’s judicial system out of a 200-year slumber and has touched virtually every aspect of the country’s social, economic, and political life. This chapter assesses this new constitutional chamber’s impact on the political system and society at large during its first 14 years of existence. I argue that the consequences can be found on three levels that all have direct consequences for the policy-making process in particular and politics in general. First, the court limits the policy-making autonomy of the government by requiring all new and existing legislation to pass a strict test of constitutionality. Second, policy makers within the legislative assembly can and must anticipate the reaction of the court, and thus impose limits on legislation before it becomes law to preempt the court’s intervention. This dynamic has granted minority parties considerably more power than they had prior to the introduction of the new court, thus shifting the relative power of political parties within the congress.


Constitutional Amendment Supreme Court Constitutional Court Labour Code Costa RICA 
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© Rachel Sieder, Line Schjolden, and Alan Angell 2005

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  • Bruce M. Wilson

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