The research plan combines both qualitative and quantitative research approaches. Both approaches will be essential for gathering the significant variety of information/data that will allow the P.I. to construct an assessment of the roles of supreme courts in the politics of the less-studied Latin American Nations, and to compare that assessment with what we know about this subject from the experience of the courts of the more-studied Latin American and that of other courts on other continents. Specifically, the research will be supported by four distinct data gathering activities, documentary research, elite interviews, systematic data collection on judicial selection systems, political recruitment, and career experience, and individual and court-level decision making.
Documentary research on the history and environment of the supreme court and the judiciary will be essential to developing an accurate assessment of the role of the supreme court in each of the political systems that is the focus of this proposed research. The research plan calls for documenting:
1.the legal foundation and experience of the judiciary across the post-independence history of the countries to be studied. This history will be important to developing an understanding of the formal/jurisprudential foundations, traditions, and legal cultures of the courts.
2.the history and experience of the judiciary (and especially the supreme court) across the period of democratization that began in the late 1970s or 1980s. These historical data will provide directly relevant background on the strengths and weaknesses of the courts, temerity or timidity in facing other policy makers, and the strategic environments they courts have faced in recent decades.
For example documents about the Supreme Court of Ecuador, click here.
Fernanda Boidi and Neal Tate meeting with the Consejo de Magistrados in Paraguay
An important part of the proposed research will be interviews with political, judicial, legal, and scholarly elites about the courts and their roles. Designed as the semi-structured interviews that are most appropriate for the intended populations, the interviews will provide information about inter-branch relations, judicial selection criteria and recruitment processes, and national politics as they relate to the judiciary. With adequate access to these elites, the project will be able to secure “insider” information about court-executive, court-legislature, and intra-court relations that will be invaluable in assessing the court’s roles. Such information is normally available only from such elite sources.
The project will gather, from documentary and archival sources and interviews, systematic data on the background and careers of Supreme Court justices and other judges serving in the countries that are the focus of this project. The roles of courts are inextricably bound up with who the judges are. Changes in the social, regional, legal, and political, and other backgrounds of the judges who serve on the top courts can be significant indicators of changes in the roles of these courts, as well as, possibly, the nature of the political networks or alliances to which the judges giver their allegiances, or even their policy making values or ideologies. Changes in selection patterns or modal career patterns may produce changes in judicial expectations about the ideal role top courts should play in national policy making or in relating to other branches. Thus an effort to obtain as complete and methodical as possible data on the backgrounds, training, and careers of the judges will be an extremely important part of the work to be conducted
Supreme Court Decisions
The research proposed here would be incomplete without an effort to collect decision making data on the supreme courts being studied. Systematic decisions data collections do not identify for the investigator the constitutionally or doctrinally most significant decisions supreme courts make. Identification of such decisions is more appropriately a function of qualitative research, and the documentary and elite interview research to be conducted as a part of this project should be of great assistance in making such identifications. Creating a systematic decisions database does, however, given one insights into the normal (and on occasion abnormal) work conducted by a supreme court and supplies a basis for the comparison of the work of courts across legal hieratchy levels and national boundaries.
The decision making database to be created as a part of this project will follow the research design of the High Courts Judicial Database. Specifically, it will be created for Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia, and will consist of a random sample of either all or a random sample of 100 (whichever is less) decisions officially reported each year. We expect to be able to create the database for varying numbers of years in the period 1990-2009, depending on the availability of the necessary decision records and project resources. The codebook created for and used to generate the High Courts Judicial Database, augmented as desirable for the cases of Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, will be used as the base codebook for this project.
For a copy of the decisions codebook as adapted for Uruguay click here.
For a copy of the decisions codebook as adapted for Ecuador click here.