Courts, Law and Politics
Fall - irregular (the course is offered in fall 2017)
Objectives and Content
This course aims to provide students with an understanding of the role of courts and judges in contemporary politics. The role of courts as political actors and arenas for political battles has increased significantly in the past decades, across geographical regions as well as policy areas. This has raised a rage of controversies: Is it undemocratic to give more powers to the courts? Does it lead to more accountable government and respect for citizen's rights? - or are we moving towards a "juristrocracy" where "politicians in robes" decide cases based on their own ideology? Who benefits from the increased judicialisation of politics? The course introduces the students to the central scholarly debates around judicial behavior and judicial politics, and draws empirical examples from all regions of the world.
The course is divided into four parts. In the first part, we focus on the role of the judiciary in democratic societies, introducing students to the normative and theoretical discussions on the proper role of courts as well as to comparative perspectives on how this plays out in practice in different contexts. The aim is to encourage and enable students to reflect on the role of legal institutions in a democracy and on the boundaries between the legal domain and the political domain.
The second part of the course aims to introduce students to the debates on what is required for courts to fulfil their role as an independent arbiter of disputes and a check on the use (and potential misuse) of power? There is a rich literature on what judicial independence requires and the course will discuss key factors that influence how well judges are insulated from undue influence from other political actors as well as private interests; how we can know whether or not judges act independently; and what it takes for judges to not only be independent, but also have authority vis-à-vis other power holders so that their decisions "stick" and are complied with and implemented. In addition to discussing the theoretical literature, students will also be introduced to how judicial independence is institutionalised and functions (or not) in different parts of the world.
The third part of the course focuses on the study of judicial behaviour. What are the factors that in actual practice influences how judges decide cases? Does it matter who appointed them? Where they were educated? Whether they are women or men? And how can we know? These debates have been particularly important in the US, and students will be introduced to key scholarly works in this field, but the in this part of the course the main empirical focus will be on the Norwegian Supreme Court.
The last part of the course, focus is placed on courts as a political arena and how, in many parts of the world, social groups and interest increasingly use the courts as an arena for advancing their political aims (a trend often referred to as judicialisation of politics). The aim of this part of the course is to provide insights into how these processes play out in different parts of the world - among other in the form of legal mobilization by social movements; the use of courts in electoral politics; and the blocking of reforms by corporate interests - and to discuss whether, when and why this constitutes a democratic problem.
A candidate who has completed his or her qualification should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:
- demonstrate knowledge of the central concepts in the literature on the role of courts and law in contemporary societies (such as judicialization of politics: politicization of courts; judicial independence; judicial behavior; judicial activism; legal mobilization; accountability functions of courts; constitutionalism; human rights and rule of law)
- explain different perspectives in the normative and empirical research on the role of law and courts, including on judicial independence, -behavior, and -mobilization and account for the main differences between the positions
- Identify issues in contemporary debates that relate to the issues discussed in the course, and analyze and reflect on them in light of the concepts and theories in the literature.
- Identify and analyze how and why courts function differently between countries and regions and over time, and what the effects are on society.
- Identify and reflect upon how law and courts both shape society and the way politics play out, and themselves are shaped by the social context in which they function and the prevailing power-structures.
- Critically relate concepts and perspectives on the role of courts and law to new situations, statements and developments, and engage in debates with others on implications, solutions and recommendations
Access to the Course
Open for all students at the University of Bergen
Teaching and learning methods
Hours per week: approximately 2
Number of weeks: minimum 10
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Forms of Assessment
Take home exam, 3 days, maximum 3000 words
Fall - irregular (offered in fall 2017)
The course is evaluated regularly