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.
Agenda Setting and Case Selection on the U.S. Supreme Court
Elizabeth A. Lane and Ryan C. Black
The American Judicial Process and Why It Matters
Lisa M. Holmes
The American judicial system is not a static, simple, or mechanical entity. Rather, it is a complex organization that is developed and staffed in response to changing caseload and societal pressures through a process that is inherently political. The key personnel who help the judiciary function bring varied backgrounds and perspectives with them that influence the work they do. As is the case with any political system, understanding American politics and policy making requires an understanding of the judiciary’s role in the American political system. In addition, on a daily basis, courts function to resolve disputes. While most cases have little direct impact on American policy or society broadly speaking, the resolution of these cases is important to those who turn to the courts of law to resolve their disputes.
American Prosecutors as Principals and Agents
Brett Curry and Banks Miller
The pervasiveness of their influence arguably makes prosecutors the most consequential actors in the American criminal justice system. Armed with discretion over which cases to pursue, what charges to file, and which issue areas to prioritize, prosecutors play a decisive role in determining what progresses from investigation to the courtroom. It is their charge to do justice in each case, but that obligation hardly forecloses the influence of politics on their decisions. Despite their centrality, however, prosecutors and their behavior have failed to garner even a fraction of the attention that scholars have directed toward law enforcement, correctional systems, or judges. The discretion of American prosecutors is theoretically immense; there are few formal constraints upon it. If a federal or state prosecutor declines to pursue a case that has been referred to him or her, that declination decision is essentially immune from judicial review. But these formalisms come with more practical limitations. At the federal level, United States Attorneys are appointed by the president and, therefore, are expected to carry out an administration’s general policy priorities. In the states, most district attorneys answer to the electorate, which imposes its own constraints on a prosecutor’s freedom of action. Chief prosecutors—state and federal—are simultaneously principals to their subordinates and agents of the people or the president. If those considerations were not enough, American prosecutors must be mindful of still other factors. How might their actions today impact their future career paths? What influence might legislative changes, public opinion, or judicial rulings have on how they operate? Scholarship on prosecutors has addressed some of these questions, but we still lack a good understanding of all the ways in which politics infects prosecutorial decision-making. As “progressive prosecutors”—many who are former public defenders—continue to win office, new questions will arise about how far prosecutors can push reform of the criminal justice system. A major looming question is how voters conditioned to law-and-order rhetoric will evaluate the new prosecutors. Some preliminary work shows that non-White prosecutors tend to reduce rates of incarceration, while Republican-affiliated prosecutors increase them.
Amicus Curiae Briefs in the Supreme Court
Richard L. Pacelle, Jr.
The decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are the law of the land and create precedents that bind lower courts and the justices. The impact of any Supreme Court decision is seldom confined to the two parties in the case. This presents two dilemmas. First, how can the Court accurately gauge the effects of its decision beyond the two parties? Second, for groups anxiously awaiting a decision that is going to impact their future, how do they convey their views to the justices? Perhaps the best solution to both is the amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief. Groups file such briefs to provide the Court with expertise, to expand or contract the issue in the case, and to provide an informal tally of public opinion. The amicus briefs serve the purposes of the justices as well. For their part, justices have a tremendous amount of work and a limited staff of clerks to help them. They are cognitive misers who cannot process all the relevant information they need and thus rely on cues and heuristics to help them make reasonably informed decisions. The existing scholarship provides a window into the growth of the use of amicus briefs and their impact on decisions. The use of the amicus brief also has important implications for representation and political participation. It can provide an entry to the system for groups that otherwise might lack access. The dramatic rise in the use of amicus briefs in the Supreme Court has altered the dynamics of decision making and provides the research agenda for the next round of studies.
Attitudes Toward LGB Families: International Policies and LGB Family Planning
Pedro Alexandre Costa
According to recent U.S. census data, there are over 700,000 same-gender couples, of which 114,00 have children. U.K. census data further revealed over 200,000 same-gender parented families, and there is evidence that these numbers have been increasing in the last few decades. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on the psychosocial well-being of LGB families was established with a focus on the potential impact of parents’ sexual orientation on the psychological adjustment of their children. Interest in LGB families was evidenced by the growing political and public attention, and became a central issue within the LGBT+ movement across the Western world, especially in Europe and the United States. However, attitudes toward LGB family policies have not evolved in a linear fashion insofar as they have accompanied the constant back and forth in LGB family policies and legislation. Negative attitudes toward LGB family policies are rooted in the negative evaluations of LGB individuals based on beliefs that LGB people are less fit as parents or unable to form and sustain healthy relationships because of their sexual or gender identity. However, these negative beliefs differ according to heterosexual individuals’ characteristics. Research has shown that men, older, less educated, non-White, politically conservative, highly religious, and authoritarian, as well as those who believe that homosexuality is controllable, strictly adhere to traditional gender roles and authorities, and do not have frequent or close contact with LGB individuals, hold higher levels of sexual prejudice toward LGB individuals and LGB family policies. As of January 2020, same-gender marriage and parenthood are recognized in around 30 countries worldwide, although some countries recognize some forms of same-gender unions, but not marriage, whereas others recognize the right of LGB individuals to have children but not to marry. LGB family policies have progressed mostly through two different pathways: (a) the judicial pathway, which has involved litigation and court rulings on specific matters related to same-gender relationships and parenthood and which was undertaken in the United States, and (b) the legislative pathway, which has relied on political discussion and policy initiatives and was undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The different pathways to equality in LGB family policies have different impacts for LGB individuals. In particular, the constant negative messages regarding same-gender couples as being unable to have healthy relationships have been shown to contribute to chronic minority stress and psychological distress among LGB individuals. By contrast, the legalization of same-gender marriage and parenthood provide important benefits and protections for LGB families in addition to promoting their well-being. Examining the evolution of attitudes and legislation regarding LGB family policies is important to inform further initiatives aimed at correcting inequalities for LGB families.
Canada’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groups
The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized. Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources. The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself. From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.
Catholic Church Advocacy and the Affordable Care Act
The American Catholic Church has a long history in health care. At the turn of 19th century, Catholic nuns began developing the United States’ first hospital and health care systems, amassing a high level of professionalization and expertise in the field. The bishops also have a well-established record advocating for healthcare, stemming back to 1919 with the Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, which called for affordable and comprehensive care, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Moving into the latter part of the 20th century, the bishops continued to push for health care reform. However, in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade (1973), the American bishops insisted that any reform or form of universal health care be consistent with the Church’s teaching against abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. The bishops were also adamant that health care policy respect religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In 1993, these concerns caused the bishops to pull their support for the Clinton Administration’s Health Security Act, since the bill covered abortion as a medical and pregnancy-related service. The debate over health care in the 1990s served as a precursor for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) opposition to the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraception mandate. The ACA also highlighted a divide within the Church on health care among religious leaders. For example, progressive female religious leadership organizations, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and their affiliate NETWORK (a Catholic social justice lobby), took a different position than the bishops and supported the ACA, believing it had enough protections against federally funded abortion. Though some argue this divide lead to institutional scrutiny of the sisters affiliated with the LCWR and NETWORK, both the bishops and the nuns have held common ground on lobbying the government for affordable, comprehensive, and universal health care.
Citizenship Law as the Foundation for Political Participation in Africa
The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments. The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law. In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.
Citizenship of the European Union
Citizenship is usually conceptualized as a unitary and exclusive relationship between an individual and a sovereign state; yet the European Union (EU) has developed the most advanced form of contemporary supranational citizenship. Citizenship of the European Union guarantees EU citizens and most members of their families the right to move, live, and work across the territory of the EU. It also guarantees the right to vote in local and European elections in the member state of residence, the right to consular protection outside the EU when the member state of nationality is not represented, the right to access documents or petition Parliament or the Ombudsman in any of the official languages, and the right to be treated free from nationality-based discrimination. Though on the political agenda since the postwar origins of European integration, EU citizenship was not formalized into EU law until the Maastricht Treaty. Since then, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has declared that “EU Citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States” and there are ongoing discussions about the relationship between EU and member state citizenship. In terms of identity, increasing numbers of Europeans see themselves as citizens of the EU, and questions of citizenship are at the heart of debates about the nature of European integration.
Collegial Courts: Panel Decision Making and the U.S. Courts of Appeals
Pamela C. Corley and Wendy L. Martinek
The three-judge panel mechanism by which the courts of appeals process almost all (though not quite all) of their cases affords scholars unique opportunities to explore how appellate court decision making may transcend being merely the sum of its parts. Specifically, court of appeals judges pursue their decision-making responsibilities as part of a collegial group, and thus it is important to understand how being a member of a multimember court influences their behavior.
Comparative Abortion Law and Politics
Udi Sommer and Aliza Forman-Rabinovici
Public debate rages around the world as to if and when a woman has a right to access abortion services. Though abortion policy has become more permissive over time in various places, there are still many countries with severe restrictions. The variety in state abortion policies at the state and regional levels reflects the different religious, cultural, and political attitudes toward this issue. Literature on this topic engages with larger theoretical debates within the study of public policy. That includes definitions of morality policy and determinants of feminist policy. Researchers continue to search for the ideal way to compare permissiveness of abortion policy in light of the extensive variation, conditions, and caveats that exist within abortion legislation. A number of variables, including female political representation, dominant religious groups in the country, and women’s movements have emerged as central correlates with permissiveness of abortion policy. The difference between de jure abortion law and de facto access also constitutes an important part of abortion policy research.
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.
Constitutions in Latin American Politics
Jonathan Hartlyn and Alissandra T. Stoyan
Constitutions have been an important part of Latin America’s history since independence. While exhibiting frequent change, there have been continuities primarily regarding their republican form and presidentialism. Extensive scholarship exists on the origins of constitutions, their evolving design, and their effects concerning democratic stability and rights, particularly with regard to trends and patterns since the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s. Large-scale “refounding” constitutional reforms have gained traction with citizens and civil society groups, and populist leaders have promoted them as a solution for socioeconomic and political exclusion. Politicians have also favored both large- and small-scale changes as ways to continue in office, concentrate power, gain or maintain support, or defuse crises. With frequent changes and longer and more complex texts, sharp distinctions between constitutional moments defining the rules and ordinary politics occurring within the rules have blurred. The research on these issues regarding constitutions confronts challenges common to the analysis of weak institutions in general, including particularly endogeneity to existing power distributions in society and thus seeking to understand when and why key actors respect constitutional rules of the game. Some scholarship advances actor-centered linkage arguments connecting the origin, design, and effects of constitutions in a causal progression, on topics such as presidential powers, unequal democracies emerging from authoritarian regimes, or judicial independence. These arguments differ regarding the direct impact they ascribe to constitutions compared to other factors, particularly with more extended time horizons. They typically examine the narrow strategic interests of the key players while also considering when they may contemplate broader goals, especially when no one player is dominant. Though diffusion has played a role in constitutional process and design in the region, most scholars downplay its relative importance. Since the 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in a unidirectional, path-dependent fashion in the incorporation of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as decentralization and participatory mechanisms. Unlike presidential re-election and presidential powers, which have seen more frequent and sometimes mixed evolution, once these rights and mechanisms are granted they are not formally reversed in subsequent reforms. Yet, their effective realization has been partial and uneven, typically requiring some combination of societal mobilization and institutional activation. Thus, other endogenous or exogenous factors are typically incorporated into explanations regarding their possible effects. Future research in many areas of constitutionalism could be enhanced by a more systematic cross-national multidimensional data collection effort, facilitating further quantitative and multi-methods empirical work. This will assist scholars in addressing the theoretical and methodological challenges in this field common to institutional research generally. At the same time, it is critical not to lose sight of the normative dimension of constitutionalism, given its symbolic and aspirational value as well as practical importance for democracy.
Courts and Rule of Law in Developing Countries
Lisa Hilbink and Matthew C. Ingram
Under what conditions can courts be effective and the rule of law be meaningful in developing countries? A vast literature has emerged over the past several decades seeking to understand the factors that support or impede healthy judicial functioning in developing countries, as well as those that account for its stagnation and erosion. Scholars analyze four phenomena that shape the judicial role in politics: empowerment, activation, behavior, and impact. Works on judicial empowerment analyze identifiable moments of change in formal, de jure rules governing the jurisdiction, independence, accessibility, and efficiency of legal institutions, whether at the constitutional or at the legislative level. Studies of activation examine when, how, and why actors identify particular harms or grievances as legal wrongs and pursue litigation as a means of redress. Judicial behavior studies address how and why judges vote on issues or rule on cases, either individually or collectively as collegial bodies, with a particular eye to the factors that enable or constrain independent judicial decision-making. In developing countries, scholars have also begun analyzing off-bench judicial behavior. A final category of research on courts in developing countries seeks to assess the impact of judicial behavior on political processes, policy outcomes, and society at large. Compliance is a major focus of such works, but scholars also seek to understand how court decisions transform the way social actors frame their struggles and mobilize politically, and to assess the promise and pitfalls of the judicialization of politics. The great variation within and between the vast category of developing countries greatly complicates the task of building general theory on any of the four outcomes. This variation reveals that the assumptions of dominant theories hold more tenuously in less- institutionalized contexts, where information is less clear or complete and is under shorter time horizons, and where the costs are lower for flouting the law or interfering with courts. These observations signal the need to delimit or moderate theoretical arguments about core relationships of interest according to political and economic conditions and contexts. Yet insights regarding developing countries might become increasingly relevant for understanding judicial politics in developed countries, as politics in developed countries take on features more common to developing countries, including polarization, populism, and even authoritarian tendencies like open attacks on political opponents, press, courts, and independent investigative agencies.
Courts and Same-Sex Marriage in Latin America
Maximiliano Campana and Juan Marco Vaggione
Same-sex marriage has become one of the LGBT movement’s main demands in Latin America in the past decade. Argentina was the first Latin American country to recognize same-sex marriage in 2010, and it has been replicated in other countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Mexico. In all these cases, the courts have been an important ally of the LGBT movement, generating the constitutional grounds and decisions for the recognition and expansion of the rights of same-sex couples. In this sense, litigation has proved to be a powerful strategy for LGBT groups for their demands of recognition, and in the analyzed cases, the judiciary has been receptive to these petitions and claims assuming different roles. The litigation experience in Latin America has been shaped by the U.S. litigation model for the advancements of civil rights, a model that has had an impact in the LGBT campaigns for same-sex marriage, and as a result it is possible to identify different roles that the Latin-American courts have played in protecting same-sex couples and legally recognizing their partnerships in the region. Thus the historical developments of the strategic litigation have been crucial for the recognition and advancement of rights, generating a type of litigation that was originated in the United States and later replicated in Latin America, thanks to institutional changes and successful experiences of same-sex marriage litigation. However, the courts have assumed different roles when recognizing the right to marriage between same-sex couples in the region, according to the legal, social, political, and international context where they are inserted, showing that the “politization of the justice” and the “judicialization of politics” are two interconnected procceses that combine in different and complex manners when debating sexuality in the region.
Courts and Social Policy
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 these decisions 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 feedback. Identifying similarities between 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 had 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.
Courts in Latin American Politics
In the aftermath of the third wave of democratization, Latin American courts left behind decades of subservience, conservatism, and irrelevance to become central political players. They now serve as arbiters in struggles between the elected branches, and increasingly affirm fundamental rights. Indeed, some rulings champion highly controversial rights and have huge budgetary implications, sending shock waves across these new democracies. What explains this unprecedented expansion of judicial power? In trying to answer this fundamental question about the functioning of contemporary democracies, scholars of Latin America have developed a truly vibrant and theoretically dynamic body of work, one that makes essential contributions to our knowledge of judicial politics more generally. Some scholars emphasize the importance of formal judicial reforms initiated by politicians, which resulted in more autonomous and politically insulated courts. In so doing, they address a central puzzle in political science: under what conditions are politicians willing to accept limits to their power? Inspired by rational choice theory, other authors zoom in on the dynamics of inter-branch interactions, to arrive at a series of propositions about the type of political environment in which courts are more capable to assert their power. Whereas this approach focuses on the ability of judges to exercise power, a third line of scholarship looks at how ideas about the law and judicial role conceptions affect judges’ willingness to intervene in high-stakes political struggles, championing some values and interests at the expense of others. Finally, more recent work asks whether assertions of judicial power make a difference in terms of rights effectiveness. Understanding the consequences of judicial decisions is essential to establishing the extent to which more assertive courts are actually capable of transforming the world around them.
Courts in the United Kingdom
Courts in the United Kingdom have evolved gradually over the past 700 years. The modern court system is sophisticated, displaying both specialization by area of law and regional differentiation. The English and Welsh court system, for example, is separated from the Scottish and Northern Irish court systems. Across all different jurisdictions within the UK, courts display moderate to high levels of de facto judicial independence without many guarantees of de jure judicial independence. Appointment to the courts system since the reforms of 2005 is strongly apolitical; this, coupled with a weak form of fundamental rights review, means that debates about judicial politics have been limited. Particularly sensitive issues arise in relation to courts’ handling of multilevel governance, and more particularly the relationship between the Westminster Parliament and the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales, and between the Westminster Parliament and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Because of the gradual introduction of human rights guarantees in domestic law, and progressive devolution of power from center to periphery, UK courts offer lessons for those interested in the introduction of rights catalogs and in theories of constitutional review.
Courts, the Law, and LGBT Politics in India
In India, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized sodomy (penile nonvaginal sexual acts) in 1860 during British colonial rule. Under this law and the traditional cultural norms, the LGBT community faced harassment and violence from the police, medical establishment, religious and conservative organizations, and families. The Indian queer movement mobilized in the early 1990s, primarily through activism for legal reform. Criminalization of sodomy prevented the LGBT community from freely mobilizing in public spaces, reporting acts of violence and harassment, and coming forth for testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and therefore was an impediment to their health and well-being. LGBT rights groups challenged the constitutionality of Section 377 on the basis of violating the right to equity (Article 14), nondiscrimination (Article 15), freedom (Article 19), and life and privacy (Article 21). Decriminalization of Section 377 has been a long, three-decade battle in the courts involving multiple judicial rulings. In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized sodomy and declared Section 377 unconstitutional. The ruling was challenged by conservative and religious groups in the Supreme Court for going against social norms, threatening the institution of marriage, and promoting homosexual practices that would increase the spread of HIV/AIDS. In 2013, the Supreme Court heard the case, overturned the High Court ruling, and recriminalized Section 377. The Court declared that Section 377 was constitutional and applied equally to all persons. Thereafter, the Supreme Court passed three other judgments that directly impacted Section 377: It expanded the rape laws under Section 375 of the IPC to include penile nonvaginal acts (2013), provided legal rights to the transgender community as a nonbinary third gender (2014), and established the right to privacy under the Constitution (2017). The Supreme Court reassessed its decision, and on September 6, 2018, decriminalized Section 377 in a historic judgment. Legalizing queer sexuality was a positive step forward., yet considerable legal reform is still needed. The LGBT community still lack civil rights such as marriage, adoption, tax benefits, inheritance, and protection in the workplace. LGBT rights mobilization through the Indian courts has evolved from a focus on HIV/AIDS and health to broader human rights and privileges as equal citizens.
Courts, the Law, and LGBT Rights in Asia
Courts have played an integral part in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities in many parts of Asia. Yet courts in other parts of Asia have entrenched LGBT subordination. A vast expanse separates Asia’s most progressive LGBT judicial decisions from the most oppressive. This divergence stems from various factors, including differences among Asian courts’ judicial philosophies and cultural backdrops. Judicial developments in Asia have disrupted conventional narratives in Anglophone literature about LGBT rights. Conventional wisdom says there is a standard sequence for developing LGBT rights. It is commonly believed that countries will protect sexual orientation rights before gender identity rights; that they will legislate against discrimination before legalizing same-sex marriage; and that legal protections of LGBT rights begin in the West, and then the rest of the world subsequently imports these legal constructs. Developments in Asia have, however, challenged these narratives. While many Asian courts have galvanized reforms to protect LGBT rights, it is important to remember that these courts are nonetheless constrained in their ability to effectuate change. Case studies from Asia demonstrate that protecting LGBT rights often requires political branches of government to cooperate with courts. Political actors may resist implementing court-ordered reforms, especially if public opinion does not support the reforms.