Abby Blass is an author and researcher in the domain of American constitutional law and comparative judicial politics. She earned her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2023. Her primary research areas are constitutional law and judicial behavior in the United States and other advanced democracies. She uses quantitative and qualitative research methods to explore the ways that differences in institutional design shape the behavior of high court judges, and the causes and consequences of formal judicial empowerment over time. Abby earned a bachelor’s degree in political science (pre-law) from the University of Michigan, and she worked at the law firm Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody in Austin, Texas for nearly three years before beginning her doctorate, which included coursework at the University of Texas Law School.
Abby’s dissertation research explored differences in the willingness of high court judges to use their constitutional review authority to participate in national policymaking. Using quantitative and qualitative analysis of judicial decisions invalidating national laws over thirty years in the United States and France, and with comparative reference to judicial review United Kingdom, she showed how, contrary to conventional wisdom, judges equipped with the so-called “last word” on policy—those with strong form constitutional review in fragmented political environments—use their power more sparingly and over a narrower range of policy domains, than their counterparts with weaker forms of review in political systems that offer straightforward mechanisms to displace judicial opinions. This is true over the long term because giving judges the ‘last word’ on matters of policy raises the stakes of judicial review and invites backlash from political actors with the power to limit a high court’s autonomy or its authority. Her results show that, counterintuitively, judicial “finality” may be counterproductive to the long-term project of judicial independence and empowerment.
Abby spent one year as a visiting researcher at the University of Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies to study the new UK Supreme Court, and one year as a visiting researcher at the Center for European Studies at Sciences Po Paris to study the French Constitutional Council. Her research was supported by a Macdonald Research Fellowship, a Long Research Fellowship, and a FLAS Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Center for European Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Abby is also the author of The DNA of Constitutional Justice in Latin America: Politics, Governance and Judicial Design, (Cambridge University Press, 2018, written with Daniel Brinks) which examines constitutional change in Latin America since 1975. They explore the creation and maintenance of systems of judicial review, with conceptual and empirical contributions to the literature on comparative institutional design and operation. They argue that high courts in the region are best understood as central components of a system of governance—not wholly or primarily as checks on political power or guardians of an original pact—and they show empirically that broader, more inclusive constitutional coalitions design courts with more formal autonomy and authority. The book was awarded the C. Herman Pritchett Award for Best Book on Law and Courts in 2018, by the Law and Courts Section of the APSA.
Abby’s research with Daron Shaw and Brian Roberts testing the logic of the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions regarding the purported chilling effect of perceptions of government corruption on political participation was published in the Election Law Journal, and her work with Sean Theriault and Patrick Hickey on voting behavior by members of Congress was published in the Oxford Handbook of the American Congress.
Abby was a researcher for the Comparative Constitutions Project, an NSF-funded initiative to collect data on the formal characteristics of written constitutions for all independent states since 1789 in order to investigate the sources and consequences of constitutional choices, directed by Zach Elkins and Tom Ginsburg.