This project involves exploratory and initially descriptive 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.
Previous research has focused in the wealthier and more populated Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. With the aim of complementing the bulk of knowledge on these countries, this project concentrates in countries that have received little scholarly attention in the subfield of judicial politics: Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay. These nations have undergone very different paths in what refers to their judiciaries but also their national politics.
The research plan relies on a multi-method approach that combines quantitative and qualitative techniques. Both are essential in order to collect enough information to evaluate the role of the supreme courts in these less studied countries and to compare them the countries that have been more extensively studied. More specifically, this research stands on four main data-gathering activities: a) documentary research, b) elite interviews, c) systematic data collection on judicial careers, and d) systematic data collection on supreme court decisions.