Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Wei Cui]

Published In

University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Rule of law; judicial independence; administrative litigation; authoritarianism; tax litigation


Lawsuits against the government form a part of the regular functioning of legal systems in democratic countries, and responding to such lawsuits an unavoidable part of governance. However, in the context of authoritarian regimes, administrative litigation has been viewed as a distinctively valuable institution for promoting the rule of law and individual rights. Moreover, the judiciary is portrayed as the keystone to this institution and to the rule of law in general: the more powerful and competent is the judiciary, the more it is able to “constrain government” through judicial review. Through empirical and comparative analyses of over two decades of administrative litigation in China against one of the state’s essential branches, tax collection, I challenge the utility of this normative conception of administrative litigation. Using conceptual tools that apply across legal systems and regulatory areas, I show that while litigant behavior as well the regulatory environment offer useful explanations of litigation patterns such as case volume and the plaintiff win rate, the relevance of judicial quality is barely discernible. This highlights the intuitive idea that judicial review can operate only when private parties bring suit, and whether and when they will do so cannot be taken for granted. In countries with weak legal systems, the rule of law may fail in certain basic ways that even a competent and well-subsidized judiciary cannot remedy.

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