Law in Latin America: A Comparative View

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Day Time Location
WED 3:30 - 6:30 pm JON 5.206


This course offers a broad overview of the current legal environment in Latin America. For too long, the dominant impression in the United States 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 understanding of legal systems in Latin America; to give future Latin American practitioners a more comparative view of their own legal systems; and to give any student interested in Latin America a strong understanding of how historical and political processes have shaped legal developments in the region, and vice versa. The course has 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, 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. We will focus more closely on courts’ interventions in the social and economic rights area. The third section will look at general trends and some particular examples in the private law area in Latin America. The point of the course is not to acquire exhaustive knowledge of each of these substantive legal areas in each of the countries, but to get a sense of the overall approach and some signature characteristics.

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