Comparative Legal Systems

PLS 322

We know a great deal about how courts and judges in American politics and public policy. We know far less, however, about what national courts in other countries. What kind of politics affects the creation of these courts or their reform? What role do “rights regimes” have on high courts and their relations with the rest of the government? How are judges selected for these courts and how can governments shape the policy preferences of these courts? How do high courts organize themselves and what kind of processes do they follow when they decide cases? How do courts in other countries differ from the American way of litigation and judging? To what extent is decision making affected by political ideology?

This course has several purposes. First, you will learn the “state of the art” research on three major court systems: United States, Australia, and Canada. These countries were selected because while they are similar, they also provide significant differences. The end result is that you develop knowledge about the Anglo-American common law system. Second, you will develop skills in collecting empirical information about courts from both developed and developing nations. Third, you will develop an appreciation for how the U.S. Supreme Court compares to other courts around the work both within common law systems and other types of legal systems. The course will use a lecture and an independent study format so students who are not comfortable with taking an initiative and doing more than just take notes in a lecture should consider that before continuing in the class. This class will require a significant amount of time and outside classroom work. After reading the requirements you should consider your course load and whether this a good fit for your schedule.