Maria Popova

Associate Professor
PhD, Harvard

Research interests

Comparative Judicial Politics: judicial independence, global expansion of judicial power, post-communist judicial reforms, prosecution of political corruption

Post-communist politics: freedom of speech and elections in the FSU, anti-establishment parties, EU accession, corruption and vote buying.



Politicized Justice in Emerging Democracies: Courts in Russia and Ukraine. New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2012.

Refereed Articles

"Political Competition as an Obstacle to Judicial Independence: Evidence from Russia and Ukraine," Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 43, Issue 10, (October 2010),  pp. 1202-1229.

“Be Careful What You Wish For: A Cautionary Tale of Post-Communist Judicial Empowerment,” Demokratizatsiya, Vol.18 , No. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 56-73.

“Watchdogs or Attack Dogs? The Role of the Russian Courts and the CEC in the Resolution of Electoral Disputes”, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 58, No. 3 (May 2006), pp. 391-414.

Other Publications

“Review of Verkhovskii, A., 2006 Demokratiya Vertikali, Moskva: Informatsionno-Analiticheskii Tsentr “Sova” i Informatsionno-Issledovatel’skii Tsentr “Demos”, Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol.  51, Issue 1, (2009) pp. 124-128.

"Implicit Objections to the Rule of Law Doctrine in Russian Legal Thought", Journal of East European Law, Vol. 11, Nos. 2-3 (2004), pp. 205-229.

“Rossiiskaya Pravovaya Mysl' i Printsip Verkhovenstva Prava: Problemy Adaptatsii i Neobkhodimost' Dialoga”, Konstitutsionnoe Pravo: Vostochnoevropeiskoe Obozrenie, Vol. 3, 44 (2003).

Invited presentations

2011. “The Perils of Judicial Insulation”, Workshop on Judicial Reform in the post-Communist EU members, University of Toronto.

2010.  “Boyko Borisov, the Judiciary, and the Fight Against Corruption”, Distinguished Leaders in Bulgaria Annual Lecture, University of Toronto.

2010.  “Political Competition and Judicial Independence in Electoral Democracies: An Empirical Test of the Strategic Pressure Theory ”, Laws Locations: The Textures of Legality in Developing and Transitional Societies, University of Wisconsin Law School.

2010.  “Separation of Powers in Russia and Ukraine”, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC.

2008. “The Sources of Judicial Independence: the Strategic Pressure Theory”, Politics and Law Program Talk, Dartmouth College.

2007. “Judicial Independence from Politicians: Problems and Solutions”, First Central and Eastern European Rule of Law Symposium in Sofia, Bulgaria.

2005. “Executive-Judicial Confrontation in Bulgaria”, Post-Communist Politics and Economics Workshop, Harvard University.

2004. “Rule of Law and Elections in Ukraine: Judicial Independence During the 2002 Parliamentary Elections”, Wolodymyr George Danyliw Annual Lecture at CREES, University of Toronto.

Current project

"Judicial Prosecution of High-level Corruption in Eastern Europe", funded by SSHRC and FQRSC, 2011-2014

The post-Communist transformation has provided fertile ground for political and bureaucratic corruption and both the EU and Eastern European publics are demanding that governments tackle the problem.  Naturally, the courts are at the center of any anti-corruption effort, because they are the institution responsible for enforcing the anticorruption laws, which each Eastern European state has adopted.  An effective judiciary puts corrupt politicians and bureaucrats behind bars, but resists attempts by powerful incumbents to destroy political opponents with trumped up prosecutions under the guise of fighting corruption.  Only a judiciary that is independent, powerful, and accountable at the same time can achieve this balance.  Which Eastern European judiciaries (if any) fit this bill and why?  Which type of judiciary fights corruption better?  Is it an insulated judiciary, i.e. one which is protected through institutional guarantees from interference by the other branches of government and the public? Or is it an accountable judiciary, i.e. one which is subject to some control by non-judicial actors?  What factors explain why some judiciaries become instruments in the hands of powerful incumbents who use them to sideline political opponents?