Project Description:Courts of Justice and Democracy in Latin America*
Supreme Court of Bolivia
Description: This project conducts exploratory research into the roles of courts, especially national supreme courts, in politics, government, and policy making in Latin American nations that are continuing their efforts to democratize. These efforts have usually followed periods of authoritarian/military rule in the 1980s and earlier. The efforts are often continuing under turbulent political and economic conditions that challenge conventional understandings that courts in democratic societies will have institutional autonomy and be staffed by independent and impartial judges. Despite this, visions of Latin American democratization almost always include the assumption that independent courts must play a crucial role in providing a rule of law for politics and government and for economic relations in a liberal state. In addition, knowledgeable observers of Latin American politics perceive a growing role for courts in the region that justifies the assertion that there is a “judicialization of politics” in Latin America.
There has been real growth in the scholarly book and article literature by social scientists on courts and judges in Latin America. Most of this work has dealt with Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. To complement this research on the region’s relatively wealthy, most populous, and most studied nations, this project focuses on other, less well-studied nations that are of interest both as contrasts to the more-studied group and on their own. The project pays special attention to two nations, Ecuador and Uruguay, as representatives of very different patterns of national and judicial politics. The project also is paying some attention to national supreme court roles in other less-studied nations, especially Bolivia and Paraguay.
Supreme Court of Uruguay
In Ecuador and Uruguay, the project construct an assessment of the supreme court’s political role by generating data from personal interviews with political and legal elites, researching documentary and other sources not readily available outside the countries, gathering systematic data on judicial selection, recruitment and careers, and creating a decisions database from the case records of the supreme courts. The latter will be appropriate for use by other sociolegal and judicial scholars and will be integrated into the High Court Judicial Database created and released for public access by the Principal Investigator and his collaborators.
Intellectual Merit of the Proposed Activity: The project will add breadth and depth to scholarly understanding of the role judiciaries play in assisting/hampering the growth of democracy in developing countries, especially under turbulent circumstances and the distinctive conditions of Latin America. It will enrich the descriptive foundation and the basis for more sophisticated theorizing about courts and judges and how the interaction between turbulent politics and judicial institutions and actors affect the rule of law.
Broader Impacts Resulting from the Proposed Activity: The activity will support the graduate or postgraduate education and training of two junior social scientists, who will join the ranks of well-qualified investigators of judicial and Latin American politics. The activity will created a public access database on the decision making of the supreme courts of Ecuador and Uruguay. This database will enrich the resources available to the sociolegal community.
Supreme Court of Ecuador
*Support for this project has been provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation (Law and Social Science Program Grant # 0833672), the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University, and the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. I am grateful to all these agencies for their generous support. However, responsibility for any and all conclusions from this project remain the responsibility of the Principal Investigator.