Dissertation Title: Courting Compliance: Judicial Politics as a Constraint on the Domestic Enforcement of International Law
Dissertation Committee: G. John Ikenberry (chair), Andrew Moravcsik, Kim Lane Scheppele
Dissertation Abstract: Why do some states’ judicial systems enforce international law obligations, whereas in other states seemingly independent judiciaries fail to enforce similar legal commitments? My dissertation challenges the view of independent, accessible domestic courts as politically insulated venues of rights litigation. I argue that while treaty ratification may encourage domestic actors’ use of courts to hold states to human rights obligations, it is a mistake to treat courts as passive institutions bound to follow the law as it is presented to them. Instead, I argue that national court systems are more likely to enforce human rights laws in states where the judiciary’s procedural rules allow for active manipulation of the terms of litigation. Through extensive primary research and quantitative analysis, I demonstrate that courts engage in strategic calculations that filter politically costly cases out of the court system while simultaneously broadening court access to promulgators of relatively popular, politically safe human rights norms, helping to insulate courts against political backlash. I support this argument through case studies of human rights enforcement in Colombia, Mexico, and South Africa.