SMNR: Comparative Judicial Politics

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
TUE 3:30 - 6:30 pm BAT 1.104

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


This is a Government course, cross-listed with the Law School.

Courts around the world are becoming more powerful and more deeply involved in setting public policy, deciding important political and social questions, and constraining democratic politics. At the same time, those who should know – and care – the most about this phenomenon, including lawyers, politicians, and political scientists, often operate under mistaken premises concerning courts and law, how politics affects them and how they in turn affect politics. In this course we will try to dispel some of these misunderstandings. We will ask questions like the following: What is behind this global trend? What are courts doing with their newfound powers? When do courts and law have more important consequences for politics and for social change? Perhaps more importantly, is the “judicialization” of politics good, bad or indifferent? And good for whom?

The course examines the role that courts and law play in political systems around the world, including the United States. We begin with an examination of the basic logic of courts and law, and cover such topics as the differences across legal traditions, the creation of constitutional courts, the nature of judicial decision-making, judicial independence, the capacity of courts to produce social change, etc. The ultimate goal is to understand the conditions under which courts are or become consequential actors within the overall social and political system.

The course should be especially relevant to those with an interest in comparative law and legal systems, comparative judicial behavior, the role of courts in politics and social change, and the rule of law around the world. Given the course’s strong institutional focus, the course should also be relevant to those interested in comparative institutional analyses more generally. The readings will include materials on courts around the world, from the US and the rest of North America, to Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Writing Assignments:

For this course you will produce three kinds of written assignments. You will write two reaction papers, minimum of one or two pages, that react to the readings for a particular day, and provide questions to jump start the discussion. You will write one reflection paper of 5-7 pages on at least one of the conceptual or theoretical questions addressed in the course, that offers some original thinking on these issues, grounded in an understanding and critique of the literature we cover. Finally, you will write a paper of 25 to 35 pages on a topic of your choice that at least points in the direction of a conference/article quality piece of work. You will need to make some original claim in your paper, not just repeat and re-process what is already in the literature. Alternatively, you may write a thoughtful critical review of several recent pieces (say, three books) on a topic – for this, the standard will be theoretical and critical originality. A good critical review will still depend on reading more broadly than what we have on the syllabus, in order to bring all the relevant literature to bear.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

No materials required


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