Monday, March 2, 2009

On My Reading List - Judicial Power and National Politics: Courts and Gender in the Religious-Secular Conflict in Israel

A growing body of legal and political science scholarship attempts to demonstrate that courts operate in a political and cultural context. In the United States, this work has examined how evolving international and domestic politics have influenced judicial opinions in the context of civil rights, economic regulation, and other important issues.

This important scholarship places judicial opinions in a broader social context, and it provides a framework for understanding court doctrine as a product of legislative, executive, and social movement activity. For that reason, I am excited to find the following recent publication: Judicial Power and National Politics: Courts and Gender in the Religious-Secular Conflict in Israel.

Patricia J. Woods examines a controversial issue in the politics of many countries around the world: the increasing role that courts and justices have played in deeply charged political battles. Through an extensive case study of the religious-secular conflict in Israel, she argues that the most important determining factor explaining when, why, and how national courts enter into the world of divisive politics is found in the intellectual or judicial communities with whom justices live, work, and think about the law on a daily basis. The interaction among members of this community, Woods maintains, is an organic, sociological process of intellectual exchange that over time culminates in new legal norms that may, through court cases, become binding legal principles. Given the right conditions--electoral democracy, basic judicial independence, and some institutional constraints--courts may use these new legal norms as the basis for a jurisprudence that justifies hearing controversial cases and allows for creative answers to major issues of national political contention.

Advanced Praise
"This well-written book makes an important contribution by pushing the analysis of the controversies surrounding judicial intervention/activism to take ideas seriously. It provides a very persuasive account of Israel's High Court of Justice's involvement in religious issues and the key role of the judicial community in precipitating that involvement. At the same time, Woods attends to the roles of institutional factors and social movements in facilitating the controversial rights actions/decisions of the HCJ. This book is a must read for scholars of law and politics."

-- Austin Sarat, Amherst College

"The author's notion of an extended judicial community of judges, academic lawyers, and cause lawyers is a major move forward in the `new institutionalism' in the study of law and courts."

-- Martin Shapiro, Boalt Law School, University of California at Berkeley

1 comment:

Hershblogger said...

I'd recommend folding Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel and Lee Harris The Suicide of Reason into your reading list. Under Sharia, for example, I think you'll find that there is no religious-secular conflict. Such controversy is only possible in rational rather than tribal societies. I use neither word with prejudice, they simply represent, as Harris eloquently points out, different views of how a culture is defended and advanced.

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