The article addresses the question of the role of the judiciary in the constitutional democratic state through an analysis of the concept of judicial activism. The model advanced in the article is based on a composite theory of the role of the judiciary, drawing on, and developing, Canon’s (1982) analysis of judicial activism and more recent multidimensional approaches to the assessment of judicial output. The article supplements the traditional vision of the judiciary as law enforcer in two directions. Drawing on the ‘constitutional dialogue/constitutional interdependence’ paradigm, the article perceives the judiciary as participant in a multi-player web of constitutional interactions, in which other government branches, individuals and public bodies participate in the decision making process; arguments on the omnipotency of the judiciary are thus replaced by a model of interdependency and interaction. The constitutionalist tradition serves as basis for the third vision, under which the judiciary is an active protector of core ‘thin’ societal values.
These three visions of the role of the judiciary support a multidimensional analysis of judicial activism, under which judicial output is considered not only against pre-decision law, but also on the basis of post-decision dynamics and the value content of the decision.
The model comprises seventeen distinct parameters, which include, inter alia, the degree of change in the law, interpretation techniques, interference with democratic processes, rhetoric, obiter dicta, reliance on comparative sources, the extent of the decision, and the complexity of the legal question brought before the court. Under this group of parameters, any change in the law, or action that extends beyond the mere settlement of the dispute before the court, would be considered activist. Additional parameters draw on the second vision of the role of the judiciary, and consider post-decision reaction of the legislature, the administration, the public and the judiciary itself as basis for supplementary assessment. In this context it is argued that a decision that is fully accepted and implemented by other members of the constitutional web should be viewed as less activist than a decision that is subsequently rejected; in the former case the decision conforms with societal consensus or equilibrium, while in the latter case, post-decision processes reflect judicial deviance from such consensus. A final parameter pertains to the value-content of the decision, under which a decision that promotes and protects core societal values should be considered less activist than one that intervenes in low-value policy areas. The model advanced in the article provides a basis for composite qualitative and quantitative assessments of the impact of the judiciary in the social and political spheres.