Populism and the Rule of Law – Annual Review of Law and Social Science – article

Populism and the Rule of Law

Nicola Lacey | Annual Review of Law and Social Science


The resurgence of populism in Europe and North America is widely thought to have placed the rule of law under pressure. But how many of the relevant developments are indeed associated with populism? And is any such association a contingent or analytic matter: Does populism inevitably threaten the rule of law, or do other conditions intervene to shape its impact? After setting out how I understand the rule of law and populism, I examine the ways in which contemporary populist discourse has challenged the rule of law through a variety of mechanisms—notably agenda setting, policy impact, influence on discretionary decisions, and convention trashing—considering the institutional and social conditions that conduce to strengthen or weaken these mechanisms in particular contexts. Finally, I consider the implications of the analysis for contemporary criminalization, assessing how many of the factors producing penal populism or overcriminalization are truly a product of populism.


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