Varieties of Democracy

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This Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project is massively expanding the measurement of features of political regimes around the glob. V-Dem now has a database of more than 400 indicators of regimes for all countries from 1900 to the present. I am the director of V-Dem's judiciary project. Relying on 1000s of expert judgments, we have developed measures of judicial independence, compliance, judicial purges, verbal attacks on the judiciary, judicial corruption and politically motivated reform. Papers that describe the project's approach to measurement can be found here. A paper on why attacking courts is problematic for regime stability while non-compliance need not be can be found here.

Compliance Monitoring in Latin American Legal Systems

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In 2009, my colleague Jorge Vargas Cullell and I began a conversation with the Constitutional Chamber of the Costa Rican Supreme Court (Sala IV) about the possibility of designing a field experiment to evaluate the impact of their decisions. Instead of agreeing to the field experiment, the Sala IV built a compliance monitoring system for all cases on its amparo docket. A first paper on the Costa Rican experience is available here. In 2011, we began working with Varun Gauri of the World Bank, and our research has since turned its attention to a similar process in Colombia and in the broader region.

The many human welfare benefits that are supposed to derive from the creation and maintenance of autonomous judiciaries depend on the assumption that judicial decisions are enforced in practice. Yet we know that compliance is far from assured in all cases (Gauri and Brinks 2008, Vanberg 2005). A minimal condition for addressing non-compliance is that judges must be informed about it. For this reason, a monitoring mechanism of some kind is essential to a system of limited government. Although the vast majority of courts around the world monitor compliance indirectly, by waiting for litigants to make further claims, courts in Colombia and Costa Rica have begun to monitor compliance directly, asking public officials for evidence of compliance even before. What have they learned in this process? Under what conditions do public officials comply readily with their orders? Under what conditions do public officials delay or defy? Does direct monitoring offer an improvement in compliance records over indirect monitoring? By leveraging direct monitoring of individual constitutional complaints in Costa Rica and Colombia, this project seeks to answer these questions. Beyond Costa Rica and Colombia, we are collecting information on the formal processes that guide compliance monitoring in Latin American legal systems.

Comparative Law Project

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Empirical research in the field of law and courts has centered historically on the United States, yet, its full empirical scope has always been international. This burgeoning literature on law and courts outside the U.S. has addressed a diverse set of topics, often with a focus on key issues of constitutionalism. Why do governments attempt to build independent courts endowed with constitutional jurisdiction, why are individuals or groups able to translate political conflicts into constitutional questions, often based on rights claims; once accessed, what explains the decisions courts reach and the methods of interpretation they use; following a resolution, what explains differences in the implementation of court orders; and, ultimately why are some courts able to constrain governments while others are not.

Answers to these questions have significant implications for the construction and maintenance of the rule of law; and for that reason, for major concerns of social science. In this sense, the comparative research agenda offers a crucial opportunity to influence social science broadly. Perhaps more importantly, comparative research can inform the global democratic and legal reform movement by providing theoretical guidance and producing careful instruments for benchmarking reform progress. For all of these reasons, the stakes of getting sound answers to our research questions are high. Unfortunately, scholars confront substantial challenges. One of the most glaring holes in our empirical arsenal remains the absence of a broad, cross-national database of constitutional review decisions. The CompLaw Project builds a new database on constitutional review conducted by high courts in the world’s judicial systems. CompLaw currently contains information on courts, cases and political systems in 43 states. Data capture continues in an additional 30 states. CompLaw was designed primarily to leverage cross-national variation in institutions and political conditions to evaluate theoretical claims about the political nature of constitutional review. The detailed nature of CompLaw's coding procedures, as well as it's database management plan, make it useful to a variety of research interests. A draft of a paper describing the project can be found
here. The project website, which will be open to the public soon is here.