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  • Cited by 5
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
September 2022
Print publication year:
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Book description

Why do autocrats hold political trials when outcomes are presumed known from the start? Undue Process examines how autocrats weaponize the judiciary to stay in control. Contrary to conventional wisdom that courts constrain arbitrary power, Shen-Bayh argues that judicial processes can instead be used to legitimize dictatorship and dissuade dissent when power is contested. Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa since independence, Shen-Bayh draws on fine-grained archival data on regime threats and state repression to explain why political trials are often political purges in disguise, providing legal cover for the persecution of regime rivals. This compelling analysis reveals how courts can be used to repress political challengers, institutionalize punishment, and undermine the rule of law. Engaging and illuminating, Undue Process provides new theoretical insights into autocratic judiciaries and will interest political scientists and scholars studying authoritarian regimes, African politics, and political control.


Winner, 2023 Theodore J. Lowi First Book Award, American Political Science Association

Winner, 2023 Giovanni Sartori Best Book Award, American Political Science Association

Winner, 2023 Juan Linz Best Book Prize, American Political Science Association


‘Meticulously researched and persuasively argued, Shen-Bayh demonstrates how autocrats can weaponize the ritual of trial; the formality and gravitas of court hearings are harnessed by autocrats to canonize a (fictitious) narrative of regime dynamics that furthers their political stability. The book is a stupendous accomplishment that I expect scholars of autocracy, the courts, and regime durability will be engaging with long into the future.’

Mai Hassan - Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, author of Regime Threats and State Solutions

‘This is the state-of-the-art book on authoritarian courts. Laying out a political theory of punishment, Shen-Bayh greatly advances our theoretical and empirical understanding of how authoritarian regimes operate in an era of legality. A superb book that deserves wide readership in law and political science.’

Tom Ginsburg - Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, University of Chicago Law School

‘Shen-Bayh's book shows how even in contexts characterized by a high degree of informal politics, the formal institution of courts can play a central role in autocrats' survival strategies. Moreover, by showing how the law can be weaponized for coercive purposes against regime elites, her work improves our understanding of both the judicial system and elite management in autocracies. This book is a must read for scholars working on these topics.’

Jennifer Gandhi - Political Science Professor and Department Chair, Emory University

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