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.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.
Enlargement has always been an essential part of the European integration. Each enlargement round has left its mark on the integration project. However, it was the expansion of the European Union (EU) with the 10 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), Cyprus, and Malta, unprecedented in scope and scale, which presented the EU with an opportunity to develop a multifaceted set of instruments and transformed enlargement into one of the EU’s most successful policies. The numerous challenges of the accession process, along with the immensity of the historical mission to unify Europe, lent speed to the emergence of the study of EU enlargement as a key research area. The early studies investigated the puzzle of the EU’s decision to enlarge with the CEECs, and the costs and benefits of the Eastern expansion. However, the questions about the impact of EU enlargement policy inspired a new research agenda. Studies of the influence of the EU on candidate and potential candidate countries have not only widened the research focus of Europeanization studies (beyond the member states of the Union), but also stimulated and shaped the debates on the scope and effectiveness of EU conditionality. Most of the analytical frameworks developed in the context of the Eastern enlargement have favored rational institutionalist approaches highlighting a credible membership perspective as the key explanatory variable. However, studies analyzing the impact of enlargement policy on the Western Balkan countries and Turkey have shed light on some of the limitations of the rationalist approaches and sought to identify new explanatory factors.
After the completion of the fifth enlargement with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, the research shifted to analyzing the continuity and change of EU enlargement policy and its impact on the candidate and potential candidate countries. There is also a growing number of studies examining the sustainability of the impact of EU conditionality after accession by looking into new members’ compliance with EU rules. The impact of EU enlargement policy on the development of European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and comparative evaluations of the Union’s performance across the two policy frameworks have also shaped and expanded the debate on the mechanisms and effectiveness of the EU’s influence. The impact of the Eastern enlargement on EU institutions and policymaking is another area of research that has emerged over the last decade. In less than two decades, the study of EU enlargement policy has produced a rich and diverse body of literature that has shaped the broader research agendas on Europeanization, implementation, and compliance and EU policymaking. Comprehensive theoretical and empirical studies have allowed us to develop a detailed understanding of the impact of the EU on the political and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. The ongoing accession process provides more opportunities to study the evolving nature of EU enlargement policy, its impact on candidate countries, the development of EU policies, and the advancement of the integration project.
Helma G. E. de Vries-Jordan
Marriage equality movements have been successful in achieving policy change in an increasing number of states. Hence, a growing body of scholarship has explored institutional and cultural factors that influence activists’ tactics and messaging and, in turn, contribute to marriage equality policy diffusion. Democracies with parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential systems, federal and unitary states with varying levels of centralization, and the presence or absence of constitutional anti-discrimination protections provide social movements with divergent political opportunity structures, contributing to dynamics in their tactical choices. In addition, the type of electoral system and party system, the presence of political parties that are movement allies, the use of conscience votes, the level of party discipline, the presence of out LGBT elected officials and straight political allies, and the degree of political will to enact policy change also impact activists’ strategic calculations. Finally, the use of personalized narratives in advocates’ messaging, the framing of marriage equality and LGBT rights as human rights norms, the adoption of family values frames to coopt opponents’ messaging, and the use of homonationalist versus homophobic discourses to justify policymaking decisions regarding same-sex marriage are explored. This article provides a comprehensive review of state-of-the-art research concerning all of the states that have legalized same-sex marriage as well as a detailed analysis of the mechanisms used to achieve policy change. After examining how different explanatory factors perform in accounting for the dynamics in marriage equality activism and policy convergence across a broad range of national contexts, new directions for future scholarship are suggested.
Russell H. Kaschula and Michael M. Kretzer
Language policies in sub-Saharan African nations emerge out of specific political, historical, socioeconomic, and linguistic conditions. Education plays a crucial role for all spheres of language policy. Policies either upgrade or downgrade indigenous languages through their application at various educational institutions. The most significant example is the selection of the language(s) used as languages of learning and teaching at higher-education institutions. The region’s colonial history also influences the language policies of the independent African states. Language policy in Senegal is an example of a francophone country focusing on a linguistic assimilation policy in which minor reforms in favor of indigenous languages have taken place. Rwanda’s language policy is unique as the former francophone nation now uses English as an exoglossic language in a type of hybrid language policy. Botswana is an example of an anglophone country that follows a language policy that is dominated by a very close connection to the notion of nation-building through its concentration on a single language, Setswana, alongside English. Tanzania is an anglophone African country whose policy focuses on Kiswahili, which is one of the very few indigenous and endoglossic languages. Kiswahili is broadly used in Tanzanian educational institutions until the tertiary level, but its use as medium of instruction focuses on the primary level. South Africa demonstrates the very close relationship between general political decisions and language policy and vice versa. Language policy decisions are never neutral and are influenced by the politics of a specific country. As a result, individual and societal language attitudes influence language policies. In addition to this, the overt and official language policy on a macro level may differ from the implementation of such policies on a micro level. At the micro level, practice can include covert language practices by various stakeholders.
Sex Reclassification for Trans and Gender Nonconforming People: From the Medicalized Body to the Privatized Self
Sex reclassification is a core issue of gender nonconforming legal engagements. Access to proper identification documents for trans and nonbinary people relates to lower levels of exposure to anti-trans violence, discrimination, and suicidality. In the first decades of the 21st century, the majority of global jurisdictions have seen some kind of reform with respect to sex reclassification. Nonbinary classifications, such as the X marker, are also becoming available for those who wish not to be classified as either M or F. Across the globe, five major policy streams can be found: total ban on reclassification, that is, having no law or policy in place that allows for reclassification; reproduction-related prerequisite, that is, requiring applicants to undergo sterilization or genital-related surgery; other medical intervention-based schemes, that is, requiring applicants to provide proof that they have modified their body using some kind of gender-related medical technology; corroboration requirements, that is, requiring that a third party, usually a medical professional, corroborates the identity of the applicant; and the emerging “gold standard,” gender self-determination, that is, laws and policies requiring only an expression of a desire or need to be reclassified.
These streams of policy provide varying levels of access to proper identification documents and place different burdens on applicants, some requiring bodily modifications while others rely on autonomous will. Yet all these policies still demand an alignment between the internal truth of the body and external facts, resonating with the logic of birth assignment of sex itself—that is, the idea that the allocation of differentiated legal status of M or F reflects an immutable truth about legal subjects. Current laws and policies fail to address harms caused to gender nonconforming people by state mechanisms themselves. They only provide remedies ex post facto. In the early 21st century, all countries assign a differentiated legal status of either M or F at birth based solely, in almost all cases, on external genitals of newborns. This differentiated legal status is recorded on the birth certificate and becomes a part of one’s legal identity for life. This allocation of status reflects the idea that external genitals of newborns are proof of their owners’ future roles as men or women, that is, an idea that there is a pre-legal alignment between certain bodily configurations, social role, and gender performance. This mundane administrative mechanism not only justifies different treatment for men and women but also marks trans and nonbinary people as others. In order to better address the harm caused by systems of gendered distribution of resources and opportunities, there is a need to go beyond sex reclassification to question birth assignment itself.