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About the Comparative Law Project

Most scholars contend that courts play a crucial role in limiting government in modern democracies. Yet, all too frequently, courts around the world fail to exercise meaningful control over their governments. The purpose of this study is to understand why some courts exert influence over public policy outcomes while others do not. More generally, can such influence be induced by institutional design? Or, does a court's degree of influence depend on other factors, such as public opinion and legitimacy?

The research team seeks to identify conditions under which institutional design should induce greater judicial influence. There are three competing arguments concerning the relationship between institutional design and judicial influence, which the research team will test using data on constitutional decisions on sixty national courts with constitutional jurisdiction. Specifically, the research team will test whether: 1) institutions that insulate judges increase judicial influence; 2) institutions that insulate judges only increase influence when courts enjoy sufficient public support to ensure compliance; and 3) institutions that insulate judges are irrelevant to judicial influence, because public support substitutes for them. These arguments are at the center of theoretical debates about the importance of institutional design and judicial influence. To systematically test these hypotheses, the research team will build a web-based information system to coordinate data collection efforts across locations, and to ensure that data are comparable cross-nationally.

This study is a first step in the process of constructing a broadly comparative, searchable database on constitutional review for a number of years that could be updated in real time. The information system we propose has the added benefit of providing a platform for future data collection efforts, for additional countries and years. Finally, by better understanding institutional design, the findings from this research will be directly applicable to policy makers engaged in constitution writing.