Dilemmas of Delegation: The Politics of Authority in International Courts
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CitationCreamer, Cosette D. 2016. Dilemmas of Delegation: The Politics of Authority in International Courts. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractOne of the most enduring questions for the study of politics relates to what, if any, inde- pendent power international institutions have to affect the behavior of sovereign states. This dissertation addresses this question by examining the politics underlying one supranational judicial body’s exercise of authority—the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Dispute Set- tlement Mechanism (DSM). International courts are strategic legal actors that operate in a highly political context. Politics matter for judicial outcomes—the rulings of courts—but legal constraints moderate the impact of politics in fairly systematic ways. The dissertation specifies the conditions under which one dynamic prevails and demonstrates that power pol- itics do not dominate international judicial interactions. Rather, courts are sensitive to the degree of institutional support they enjoy among the collective membership and a broader set of relevant stakeholders. Collective support for or challenges to a court’s institutional legitimacy—what I call a court’s political capital—affect judicial outcomes more than the preferences of dominant stakeholders.
The second chapter develops the dissertation’s theoretical argument, while the third chapter describes the political context within which the WTO’s judicial bodies operate. It applies methods of automated text analysis to an original dataset of all member statements made within the WTO Dispute Settlement Body from 1995-2013 in order to construct measures of the DSM’s political capital. I supplement this evidence with a series of interviews with member representatives and WTO Secretariat officials.
The fourth chapter employs original measures of dispute outcomes to identify how WTO panels respond to shifts in the DSM’s political capital. It finds that dispute panels are po- litically savvy, as they tend to signal less deference to national regulatory choices only when the DSM enjoys relatively greater support among the membership as a whole. However, the legal constraints of appellate case law moderate the influence of these political pressures on dispute outcomes. Through their rulings, panels seek to maximize support among their legal and political audiences simultaneously.
The fifth chapter turns to the relationship between the Appellate Body (AB) and dis- pute panels. How panels review domestic laws and policy choices can be—and has been increasingly—challenged on appeal by parties. This chapter describes how the AB initially directed panels to engage in searching review of domestic policy choices, but that it has encouraged greater deference to national authorities in recent years. It identifies when the AB reverses panel findings on these grounds, with a focus on when it takes into account views expressed by governments.
The final chapter turns to the impact of the WTO’s judicial authority on state behavior, specifically compliance with its judgments. Employing original measures of dispute judg- ments and compliance outcomes, this chapter demonstrates that the WTO’s judicial bodies use the content of their rulings to ease the domestic political costs of trade policy changes, thereby acting as ‘partners in compliance’ with a government’s executive branch. Yet the extent to which these strategies successfully facilitate swifter implementation is conditional on the domestic politics of compliance. The political cover provided within adverse rul- ings has no observable impact on the fact or timing of compliance for disputes that can be implemented through executive action alone. However, relatively greater validation of a trade measure does increase the probability of compliance and swifter implementation when legislative action is required. This suggests that the WTO’s judicial bodies successfully fa- cilitate compliance through the content of their rulings, thereby improving the effectiveness of the dispute settlement system.
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