April 24, 2008 8:28AM

Even Argentina’s Good Policies Undermine Its Rule of Law

Much as I hate to rain on my colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo’s understandable happiness at the decriminalization of personal consumption/​possession of small amounts of drugs, this doesn’t exactly represent a ray of hope in Argentina’s otherwise gloomy policy mix. Not because I believe in the War on Drugs — I can’t imagine anybody at Cato does — but because it was a court that reached this decision instead of a policymaking body.

Imagine the outcry if the U.S. Supreme Court simply decreed a policy it didn’t like to be unconstitutional — I know, with Justices Stevens and Kennedy at the apogee of their powers, it’s not a far stretch. Better yet, recall the poison the Court injected into our legal and political systems when it short‐​circuited the political process by inventing a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade (again, I’m not saying anything about the underlying policy arguments).

So it is here: Instead of having the Argentine Congress change the law, the nation’s Supreme Court (by a vote of 4–3) simply decreed that criminalizing drug use is unconstitutional. Reports are still sketchy, but this sounds like precisely the kind of judicial fiat developing (or any) countries need to avoid if they want to strengthen the rule of law.