Dissertation

Here is a short description of my dissertation research:

With its diversity of political and legal systems, Southeast Asia could serve as a natural laboratory for political scientists studying judicial politics. Indeed, constitutional courts in the region regularly issue politically salient and controversial decisions, such as the Thai Constitutional Court’s recent invalidation of the February 2 election. Unfortunately, relatively few comparative courts scholars have turned their attention to Southeast Asia. My dissertation research attempts to rectify this by using cases from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar (Burma) to study the relationship between constitutional courts and organized interest groups in developing democracies. I seek to understand when and why judges rule in favor of organized interest groups, such as NGOs. In other words, to what extent can organized interests use constitutional courts to influence national policy against the wishes of political elites?

In my dissertation, I will consider several ways in which organized interest groups influence judges. First, I will use a latent topic model to study agenda setting. If petitions filed by organized interests were associated with unique topics, it would suggest that they help expand the range of policy questions that judges can adjudicate. Second, I will use a logit model to assess the effect of organized interests on the probability that the judges will grant a petition for constitutional review. Judges might view the participation of organized interest groups as a sign of the popularity or credibility of a petition. Finally, I will attempt to assess the effect of legal arguments on the court’s jurisprudence. I will use plagiarism detection software (WCopyFind) to measure the extent to which judges copy text from the briefs of organized interests compared to those of other litigants. I will also randomly select 10 cases from each country’s constitutional court and read the case files to see how closely the court’s reasoning follows that of the briefs.

My dissertation research has the potential to advance both the judicial behavior and Southeast Asian politics literatures. First, I will test a set of hypotheses about the influence of organized interest groups on judicial voting behavior. Second, I will apply natural language processing tools to Southeast Asian court documents, for which I will need to adapt existing NLP programs to process Burmese and Indonesian text. Finally, I expect to amass a large collection of court documents from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar, as well as create a unique dataset with coded information about those cases. This dataset should make it easier for Southeast Asianists to conduct research about judicial politics in the region.

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