Using Latent Space Models to Study International Legal Precedent: An Application to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body
32 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2014 Last revised: 28 Aug 2014
Date Written: 2014
How do international courts and litigants use precedent? While most international judicial bodies are primarily meant to resolve disputes and rarely have any formal guidance as to the application of precedent, courts frequently consider prior decisions when issuing judgments. However, scholars know little about the structure of this ad-hoc system of precedent. This paper examines the structural attributes of the network of citations to Panel and Appellate Body Reports issued by the World Trade Organization's Dispute Settlement Body. It proposes a new statistical model for uncovering similarities in the citation patterns of the panel/AB reports and the arguments of state litigants. It models the presence of citations between cases and between litigants and cases as a function of their similarity in a latent position space. Applying this model to the two citation networks, I find that the DSB tends to tailor its use of precedent in more controversial issue areas such as safeguards, subsidies and anti-dumping - citing topically similar cases more often and "core" jurisprudence less extensively. Additionally, I find that large economies tend to be infrequent users of precedent in their arguments before the panel, but appear to strategically cite favorable cases in which they participated as third parties and which affect issue areas where they face frequent litigation.
Keywords: international courts, WTO, precedent, network, latent space
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