What determines how judicial institutions perform? Prominent theoretical approaches, such as international political economy, institutional rational choice, social capital, and structural theories, suggest that international economic actors, political competition, political participation, and poverty may all be important forces driving institutional behavior. This study analyzes these various theoretical approaches and uses qualitative and statistical analysis to compare judicial performance in the Mexican states. It provides evidence to support the institutional rational choice hypothesis that political competition generates judicial independence. Poverty, political participation, and an export-oriented economy seem to influence judicial access and effectiveness.