Latin American Courts Going Public: Institutional Innovations for Social Participation in the Judicial Decision-Making Process

Dr. Mariana Llanos
Start 12/2018 - 2021
German Research Foundation (DFG)

Dr. Santiago Basabe-Serrano, FLACSO, Ecuador

Prof. Dr. Roberto Gargarella, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dr. Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Prof. Dr. Carlo Guarnieri, University of Bologna, Italy

Dr. Elena Martínez Barahona, University of Salamanca, Spain

Dr. Julio Ríos-Figueroa, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas - CIDE, Mexico



Research Questions:

  • What are the social participation mechanisms that Latin America’s highest courts choose to connect with the public?
  • Under which circumstances do courts decide to go public with social participation mechanisms?
  • What factors explain the different intensity with which courts pursue institutional innovations? What explains the variation in the practical use of these mechanisms among courts?
  • Which are the effects of the implementation of these institutional innovations on the courts´ public standing, the compliance with their decisions, and their relation with the elected branches of government?

Contribution to International Research:

In recent years Latin American constitutional and supreme courts have engaged in institutional innovations that promote the inclusion of civil society, broad interest groups, or other stakeholders in their decision-making processes. On the one hand, these institutional arrangements seek the active integration of third parties into judicial decision-making through different mechanisms, such as public hearings, monitoring commissions, or amicus curiae. On the other hand, courts promote the creation of official websites and radio and television channels, as well as the use of social media with the explicit goal of improving public knowledge, enabling debate about their work, and broadening the audiences of judicial processes. What are the motivations and circumstances that have led courts to adopt these social participation mechanisms?

Our research will provide the first comprehensive dataset covering all social participation mechanisms implemented by Latin American constitutional and supreme courts. We aim to comparatively assess the scope and intensity with which Latin American highest courts with constitutional review powers go public with social participation mechanisms and to develop regional explanations of the causes and implementation of such mechanisms that may be applied and tested later in other regional contexts. Further, we want to provide a basis for future research on the effects of these mechanisms on court behavior, the relationship between courts and civil society, and the role of courts in the political system. We hope that our research will serve as a point of departure for future works focusing on the consequences of such court activities for the democratic quality of court behavior and the role of courts in democratic regimes.

Research Design and Methods:

Our research will be carried out in three phases. The first phase of the work program is devoted to the construction of a dataset of existing social participation mechanisms as used by the highest Latin American courts responsible for constitutional review. In the second phase of our project, we want to investigate the factors that explain different types of court behavior. We suppose that different characteristics of the sociopolitical regime as well as of the judges sitting at the bench result in varying levels of court engagement in such institutional innovations as well as in the implementation of different sets of mechanisms. In the third phase, we will evaluate the effects of the implementation of social participation mechanisms.

With all democratic Latin American countries (N=18) as cases, we pursue a medium-N approach. Our research falls into the category of comparative area studies, with an intra-regional comparison. We will apply a multi-method approach, combining a regional overview build with the help of qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) with two detailed case studies. In these case studies, we will use process tracing for uncovering the causal mechanisms that might explain both the reasons for the implementation of social participation mechanisms as well as their effects on court-elected branches relations and the role of the court in the respective political system.