This course offers a broad overview of the current legal environment in Latin America. For too long, the dominant impression when viewed from north of the Rio Grande has been that legal institutions in Latin America are, if not completely irrelevant, at least extremely weak. This conventional wisdom typically does not distinguish among countries, and it misses important recent changes in many of them. This course will note the increasing prevalence of systems in which courts are stronger and more autonomous, and judicial decision- making more predictable, and briefly look at the reasons for judicial strengthening. Mostly, however, the course will offer students an understanding of the diversity of legal experiences in the region. The goal of the course is threefold: to give future U.S.-based practitioners a realistic, politically and historically informed view of legal systems in Latin America; to give future Latin American practitioners a more comparative view of their own legal system; and to give any interested student a strong understanding of how historical and political processes have shaped legal developments in Latin America.
The course will have three broad sections. In the first we will undertake a tour of the institutional arrangements found in Latin America today, and glance briefly at their historical development. The objective of this section is to give students an idea of how courts are arranged, what civil and criminal procedures look like in the region, how the legal profession is organized, and in which countries courts are more or less autonomous institutions. This section will offer a more structural look at the courts and their organization. In the second section of the course we will cover the courts' intervention in public law, and the increasingly broad intersection between public and private law. The third section will look at the use of courts to enforce private law in Latin America. Here we will focus on some of the more important countries of the region and examine the broad outlines of their laws in two or three important substantive areas, especially where there has been significant recent change. The point is not to learn everything about each of these substantive legal areas in each of the countries, but to get a sense of the overall approach and some signature characteristics. The course will conclude with an overview of the intersection of law and politics, and of public and private law.