This article analyzes how the judicial politics sparked by the European Union's (EU) legal development have evolved over time. Existing studies have traced how lower national courts began cooperating with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to apply EU law because this empowered them to challenge government policies and the decisions of their domestic judicial superiors. We argue that the institutional dynamics identified by this ‘judicial empowerment thesis’ proved self-eroding over time, incentivizing domestic high courts to reassert control over national judicial hierarchies and to influence the development EU law in ways that were also encouraged by the ECJ. We support our argument by combining an analysis of a dataset of cases referred to the ECJ with comparative case study and interview evidence. We conclude that while these evolving judicial politics signal the institutional maturation of the EU legal order, they also risk weakening the decentralized enforcement of European law.
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