Elizabeth A. Lane and Ryan C. Black
The Supreme Court’s docket consists of thousands of cases each term, with petitioners hoping at least four justices will be compelled to grant review to their case. The decision to move a case from their docket to their calendar for oral arguments and all intermediate steps is what is known as the agenda-setting process. This is a fundamental step in the judicial process, as the Supreme Court cannot establish precedent and affect policy change without first deciding to review.
Research on constitutional law has come in different waves mirroring the development of states in recent decades. While the decolonization period of the 1960s still kept the old ties of constitutional “families,” comparison based on such ties has become ever less persuasive since the 1980s wave of constitution making following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research about de facto and de jure constitutional law now tends to embrace institutional details like judicial review powers and procedures of direct democracy. The field of comparative constitutional law is controversial both in methods and substance. It still lacks a consistent framework of comparative tools and is criticized as illegitimate by scholars who insist on the interpretive autonomy within each constitutional system.
Research in the area of fundamental rights has to deal with long-lasting controversies like the constitutionality of the death penalty. Bioethical regulation is another new field where constitutional positions tend to diverge rather than converge. Embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and surrogate motherhood are examples from biotechnology and reproductive medicine where constitutional scholars disagree about what, if anything, constitutional law can contribute to provide a basis or limit for regulation. With the worldwide rise of constitutional courts and judicial review, the standards for the interpretation of fundamental rights become more important. Legal scholarship has worked out the differences between the rule-oriented approach associated with Anglo-American legal systems versus the principle-based approach common to continental Europe.
How do courts affect social policy? Answering this question is deceptively complex. Part of the challenge stems from the sheer scope of contemporary judicial policymaking, particularly in the United States, where litigation reaches into nearly every nook and cranny of the American welfare state and casts a shadow on policy issues ranging from marriage equality to healthcare reform. Another obstacle is that scholars remain deeply divided on fundamental questions about the nature of judicial decisions and how their policy effects should be studied. These disagreements, in turn, have engendered three very different approaches to studying the role of courts in social policy that often talk past each other. The dominant approach views judicial decisions as prescriptive rules—legal commands from the bench—and asks to what extent do judicial decisions change policy? This view implies that judicial decisions are “treatments” whose efficacy should be tested by measuring shifts in policy outcomes from the pre- to post-treatment period or across treatment and control groups. An alternative tradition envisages judicial decisions as a potential resource, which can be used by activists as leverage in building movements and pursuing agendas in multiple forums. Here, the core question is not whether court decisions produce abrupt policy shifts, but how activists use them to challenge the status quo, mobilize interests, and generate pressure for policy change. A third approach sees legal precedent as a constitutive framework that shapes and constrains policymaking and its politics over time. The test for whether law matters under this approach centers on the degree to which judicial decisions influence the developmental trajectories of policy and politics, which includes consideration of paths not taken in the policymaking process.
That is not to say that the literature is wholly discordant. Despite their significant conceptual differences, these approaches tend to converge on the general idea that judicial policymaking shares many attributes with other policymaking processes: the implementation of judicial decisions, like statues and regulations, is contested and subject to capture by sophisticated interests; litigation, like lobbying, is a form of mobilization that seeks to translate policy grievances into effective political demands; judicial precedents, like other policies, generate policy feedbacks. Identifying similarities among judicial policymaking and its counterparts is a signature achievement in the study of courts and social policy, which has largely dispelled the “myth of rights” and simplistic notions that the law is somehow removed from politics. Yet it arguably has an unintended effect. Normalizing judicial policymaking—making it seem like other types of policymaking—threatens to render it less interesting as a distinct topic for research. This article suggests the time has come for all of the various research traditions in the field to return to foundational questions about what makes judicial policymaking distinctive and systematically study how these particular tilts and tendencies influence the continuing colloquy that drives the policymaking process.
Existing theories of international law are largely state-centric. While international cooperation can benefit all, states are often tempted to violate their promises in order to manage economic and political crises. States must accordingly balance enforcement against flexibility: legal institutions must provide enough enforcement that states comply most of the time yet also provide enough flexibility that states can violate during crises. Such a balance is possible when laws are crafted and enforced by unitary actors that will tolerate occasional violations by others in order to preserve their own right to occasionally violate.
However, the changing doctrine of sovereign immunity has dramatically transformed the actual practice of international law. Non-state actors and domestic courts play an increasingly important role in challenging state legal violations, generating a divergence between the theory and practice of contemporary international law. This divergence is apparent in many issue areas, including terrorism, human rights, sovereign debt, and foreign investment. This divergence suggests that political scientists and legal scholars must reconsider the limits of state-centric theories and examine the role of non-state actors and domestic courts.
Michael J. Nelson and James L. Gibson
Even though most judges in the United States stand for election in the context of strong normative objections to the practice of electing judges, political scientists have produced a surprisingly thin theoretical framework for understanding how judicial campaigns affect voters. This paucity of research is particularly surprising given the increasingly politicized environment in which judicial elections operate. The literature on judicial campaigns is well-served to draw upon the well-trodden research about campaign effects for executive and legislative office. In some important respects, however, judicial contests differ from those for executive or legislative office. To this end, the Expectancy Theory pioneered by James L. Gibson provides an important theoretical development, emphasizing that the effects of judicial campaigns are highly conditional upon variation in voters’ willingness to tolerate different types of campaign activity. Moreover, the effects of campaigns are highly dependent on the context of both institutional design and voters’ own experiences with judicial elections.
John Stuart Mill is a liberal icon, widely praised in particular for his stirring defense of freedom of speech. A neo-Millian theory of free speech is outlined and contrasted in important respects with what Frederick Schauer calls “the free speech ideology” that surrounds the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and with Schauer’s own “pre-legal” theory of free speech. Mill cannot reasonably be interpreted to defend free speech absolutism if speech is understood broadly to include all expressive conduct. Rather, he is best interpreted as defending an expedient policy of laissez-faire with exceptions, where four types of expression are distinguished, three of which (labeled Types B, C, and D) are public or other-regarding, whereas the fourth (labeled Type A) is private or self-regarding. Types C and D expression are unjust and ought to be suppressed by law and public stigma. They deserve no protection from coercive interference: they are justified exceptions to the policy of letting speakers alone. Consistently with this, a moral right to freedom of speech gives absolute protection to Type B public expression, which is “almost” self-regarding. Type A private expression also receives absolute protection, but it is truly self-regarding conduct and therefore covered by the moral right of absolute self-regarding liberty identified by Mill in On Liberty. There is no need for a distinct right of freedom of expression with respect to self-regarding speech. Strictly speaking, then, an expedient laissez-faire policy for public expression leaves the full protection of freedom of private expression to the right of self-regarding liberty.
An important application of the neo-Millian theory relates to an unjust form of hate speech that may be described as group libel. By creating, or threatening to create, a social atmosphere in which a targeted group is forced to live with a maliciously false public identity of criminality or subhumanity, such a group libel creates, or significantly risks creating, social conditions in which all individuals associated with the group must give up their liberties of self-regarding conduct and of Type B expression to avoid conflict with prejudiced and belligerent members of society, even though the libel itself does not directly threaten any assignable individual with harm or accuse him or her of any wrongdoing of his or her own. This Millian perspective bolsters arguments such as those offered by Jeremy Waldron for suppressing group libels. America is an outlier among advanced civil societies with respect to the regulation of such unjust hate speech, and its “free speech ideology” ought to be suitably reformed so that group libels are prevented or punished as immoral and unconstitutional.
Christopher A. Whytock
Political scientists—primarily in the discipline’s international relations subfield—have long studied international law. After considering how political scientists and legal scholars define international law, this article identifies five stages of political science research on international law, including the current interdisciplinary international law and international relations (IL/IR) stage, and it reviews three trends in political science research that constitute an emerging sixth stage of interdisciplinary scholarship: a law and world politics (L/WP) stage. First, moving beyond the “IL” in IL/IR scholarship, international relations scholars are increasingly studying domestic law and domestic courts—not only their foundational role in supporting international law and international courts but also their direct role in core areas of international relations, including international conflict and foreign policy. Second, moving beyond the “IR” in IL/IR scholarship, political scientists are adapting their research on international law to the broader world politics trend in political science by studying types of law—including extraterritoriality, conflict of laws, private international law, and the law of transnational commercial arbitration—that govern the transnational activity of private actors and can either support or hinder private global governance. Third, moving beyond the domestic-international divide, political scientists are increasingly rejecting “international law exceptionalism,” and beginning to take advantage of theoretical convergence across the domestic, comparative, and international politics subfields to develop a better general understanding law and politics.
Susan Haire and Laura P. Moyer
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Increased diversity among participants in the justice system, particularly judges, has fueled debates about the values and perspectives that women will bring to the law. Different theories advanced by social psychologists and feminist scholars argue for the premise that men and women in the legal system will approach questions of justice differently. In contrast, empirical scholarship offers only limited support for the expectation that the sex of the judge is related to behavioral outcomes. While most research has not uncovered differences in voting between men and women judges, one area in which consistent differences has been found is in sex discrimination cases.
Recent studies suggest, however, that individual differences between men and women judges may emerge if the focus shifts to the litigation process. In one study of trial courts, cases assigned to women judges were more likely to be settled. In another study of appellate courts, women judges were more likely to pen majority opinions that adopted a compromise position. These findings suggest the promise of shifting the analytical focus away from behavioral outcomes to consider whether, and how, women and men in the legal system shape litigation processes. Doing so will require additional data and triangulated approaches that employ both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Additional research is also needed to explore how shifts in the gender composition of the bench affect organizational norms and practices in the legal system at the federal, state, and local levels. Some work suggests that gender diversity affects deliberations on small appellate panels and consensual norms on larger courts. As the number of women and minorities appointed by recent Democratic and Republican presidents has increased, scholars are also now well positioned to conduct empirical research with larger numbers to investigate how women of color on the bench differ from white women and minority men.
Mikael Rask Madsen and Mikkel Jarle Christensen
Over the past several decades scholars have intensively debated what factors drive globalization. Answers have ranged from the emergence of the information society and the global economy to value-conflicts embedded in different civilizations. A different yet closely related question is who is driving globalization? That is, however, much less studied, even if it is arguably key to making global governance intelligible. A whole list of actors seem to offer possible answers to the question of who the globalizers are: Are they global institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Criminal Court (ICC); communities of experts providing technocratic solutions; transnational networks of activists seeking to alter global and national politics by pursuing, for example, environmental or human rights agendas; or are they powerful individuals forming transnational elites taking the fate of the global society in their hands at a safe distance from ordinary politics in places such as Brussels, New York, or Davos?
John P. Kastellec
Crucial to understanding the behavior of judges and the outputs of courts is the institutional context in which they operate. One key component of courts’ institutional structure is that the judiciary is organized as a hierarchy, which creates both problems and opportunities for judges. For instance, one problem for judges at the top of a hierarchy is how to best exercise oversight of lower court judges, whose decisions are often not reviewed by higher courts. One opportunity is that higher courts can reverse errors by lower courts; another is that, as new legal issues emerge, hierarchy provides opportunities for judges to learn from one another.
Scholars of the judicial hierarchy have pursued two broad approaches. The “team perspective” begins by assuming that all judges in a hierarchy have the same values or principles, and thus care only about achieving the correct outcome in a given case. In the team approach, the key problem in adjudication is informational. All judges agree on the correct outcome of a case, conditional on understanding the relevant facts, but may lack this understanding due to resource constraints or informational advantages enjoyed by litigants. The agency approach, by contrast assumes that judges in the hierarchy have differing preferences, and the key problem is how higher courts can ensure compliance by lower courts.
Despite these different foundational assumptions, the team and agency approaches have both been employed successfully to study core questions regarding the judicial hierarchy, including: why hierarchy exists; how higher courts can best oversee lower courts; how learning takes place both within and across the levels of the judiciary; and how collegiality influences judicial decision-making. Yet, while our understanding of the judicial hierarchy has greatly increased in recent years, many questions remain, such as how judges learn and how to measure legal doctrine.