In the field of comparative politics, France is often taken to exemplify the resilience of the centralized modern state. Stanley Hoffmann popularized this thesis by highlighting the French state’s “obstinacy” despite post-war reform efforts. This article revisits Hoffmann’s obstinate state thesis by tracing how lawyers and judges shaped French political development. I demonstrate that continuity in French officials’ claims to centralized power belie a deeper story of how legal actors catalyze institutional change in unlikely places: in civil law countries without a history of judicial review, in authoritarian regimes without regard for judicial independence, and in seemingly monolithic states without much room for democratic self-governance. These findings compel a comparative research agenda placing lawyers and judges at the center of the study of political development.