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LSJ 490 B: Special Topics in Comparative Legal Institutions

Meeting Time: 
T 9:30am - 12:20pm
LOW 105
Joint Sections: 
POL S 447 B
Rachel Cichowski

Syllabus Description:

This seminar course provides an advanced exploration of the theory, methods and empirical innovations in the study of comparative judicial politics.  The course is both comparative and international in its scope.  The course balances theoretical inquiry with the acquisition of research skills for examining the political effects of courts and legal institutions. Pol S/ LSJ 367 Comparative Law & Courts is a pre-requisite. Writing credit is optional.

Examining comparative and international courts:  The interaction between law, courts and politics is increasingly gaining attention amongst comparative politics and international relations scholars.  Similarly, public law scholars are beginning to open their eyes to the world beyond the United States and the U.S. Supreme Court.  This research seminar is targeted at students who are interested in studying the intersection between law, courts and politics in comparative and international perspective.  Drawing from public law, comparative politics, international relations and law & society scholarship, we will critically examine the alleged utility of various theories and methodology for conducting research on comparative legal systems and institutions. 

The course will cover the interaction between courts and politics, at both the micro and macro levels, and will discuss research drawing from a wide array of geographical settings.  In particular, this comparative exploration will examine the question of whether macro-structures, such as law and courts, are autonomous from an underlying social structure of power and interests – the micro level.  We will explore this question by looking at the role of courts in political processes in various national legal systems, as well as at the supranational and international level.  Further, we will examine in comparative perspective the impact of factors “from below,” such as social movement activism and public opinion in shaping political and legal outcomes.

Acquiring research skills:  The course also places a strong emphasis on research, both individual and group, and the dissemination of research through presentations.  Students must complete Pols/LSJ 367 before taking this course.  The 367 research paper will form the foundation for one of the main assignments in the course. Students will dig deeper into their initial research with an eye towards creating an original research paper that could be published in an undergraduate student journal or presented at the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. There are no exams in this course and assignments will demand active participation in discussion and reading, writing and research.  Beyond individual research projects, students will acquire research skills in building judicial decision databases and coding judicial decisions for political variables.  Students will gain first-hand experience in case law analysis and judicial decision coding utilizing a National Science Foundation funded database examining the political impacts of the European Court of Human Rights. 

Course Learning Goals and Objectives

  • Analyze and examine comparative and international legal institutions
  • Critically assess theoretical approaches and research designs for comparative judicial politics
  • Construct and conduct an independent research project on an international or foreign court
  • Acquire and apply research skills to disseminate your research findings including writing a Research Paper and designing and presenting a Research Presentation.


Catalog Description: 
Focused, comparative examination of legal institutions.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
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Last updated: 
October 15, 2021 - 1:56am