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In a liberal conception of democracy, courts play an important role in facilitating the rule of law by controlling the abidance to rules and by holding the political branches of government accountable. The power of constitutional review is a crucial element for exercising horizontal accountability. Courts across Africa are vested with the power of constitutional review, and, generally speaking, their independence has substantially increased since the beginning of the 1990s—although African courts enjoy overall less independence than the global average for courts’ independence. Within the African region, the level of judicial independence varies widely, between contexts that rarely allow judicial independence and contexts where courts have more power to challenge the government. Furthermore, across the continent, African courts experience undue interference—which frequently takes place informally. Informal interference can occur through the biased appointments of judges, verbal and physical threats, violent attacks, the payment of bribes, or the ouster of sitting judges. Informal networks—held together by ties based on shared educational trajectories, common leisure activities, religion, kinship relations, or political affiliations—are the channels through which such pressure can be transmitted. Yet judges also can actively build informal networks: namely, with the legal community, civil society, and international donors, so as to insulate themselves against undue interference and to increase institutional legitimacy. Research has shown that the agency of judges and courts in signaling impartial decision-making, as well as in reaching out to society, is crucial to constructing legitimacy in the African context. In contrast, the explanatory power of electoral competition as an incentive for power holders to support judicial independence is not straightforward in the context of Africa’s political regimes, where the prospect of losing office is associated with financial, and in some cases even physical, insecurity. However, research on judicial politics in Africa is still only preliminary, because the field requires more comparative studies in order to fully reveal the political repercussions on Africa’s judiciaries as well as to delineate the scope conditions of the prominent theories explaining judicial independence.

Article

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.

Article

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and newspapers across the country declared that gay couples could now exercise this right in all 50 states. While the Obergefell decision was an important moment in history and a significant victory for the LGBT movement, it was not an immediate and complete change in policy. Rather, the change emerged slowly over decades from numerous complex interactions among federal, state, and local governmental actors. These same actors continue to influence marriage equality even after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. A careful consideration of the path of marriage equality demonstrates the importance of federalism in the evolution of policy in the U.S. context. Not only does the extent of federal involvement influence state decision-making, but state policies also respond to the policymaking processes in other states. Examining the progression of marriage rights for same-sex couples also illustrates how variation in state government institutions shape policy outcomes in the U.S. system. For example, aspects of state courts such as judicial capacity influence the nature of state policy responses on the issue of gay marriage. Finally, focusing on marriage equality provides an opportunity to consider how institutions of government and political actors strategically interact to influence the policymaking process. For example, advocacy coalitions make strategic choices to focus on levels and institutions of government that are more responsive to their interests. Overall, same-sex marriage policy and the scholarship that investigates it highlight the complex and sometimes convoluted development that characterizes the policymaking process on many important issues in American politics and society.

Article

Europe has some of the most powerful human rights legal institutions in the world including two supranational human rights courts—the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights and the European Union’s Court of Justice (hereafter, together—the Courts). After decades of relative quiet, the Courts have begun hearing more cases concerning LGBT rights. Judgments of the Courts have advanced some facets of LGBT rights like anti-discrimination in the workplace while disappointing gay-rights advocates in other areas, for example family life and asylum. Scholarship on European courts and LGBT rights is not as developed as scholarship on norm advocacy or policy diffusion within states in Europe. The research that does exist looks at how decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice deal with current European law, how the institutions are designed, or how the supranational courts may act as agents of change or status quo institutions in shaping wider European behavior. This lack of newer research on the Courts presents ample opportunity for new avenues of research that examines not only how decisions are made at the Courts but also how states implement decisions and how states view the legitimacy of each Court.