Populism and Backlashes Against International Courts

Forthcoming, Perspectives on Politics

55 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2018 Last revised: 14 Feb 2019

See all articles by Erik Voeten

Erik Voeten

Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS)

Date Written: February 2, 2019


International courts do not just constrain governments but they also protect liberal limits on majoritarianism. This sometimes puts these courts in a position to protect the property rights of the ‘corrupt elites’ that are targeted by populists or the civil liberties of those who are targeted in domestic populist identity politics. Moreover, populism offers an ideology to attack the authority of a court rather than just its individual rulings. An empirical examination illustrates the plausibility of this argument. A large number of backlashes against international courts arise from judgments that reinforce local populist mobilization narratives. Populist backlashes against international courts are not just about sovereignty but often follow efforts to curb domestic courts, usually for similar reasons. Yet, populist backlashes do not always succeed, either because populist leaders do not follow up on their exit threats or because populism is too thin an ideology for creating successful multilateral reform coalitions.

Keywords: populism, international courts, backlash, international law

JEL Classification: F53

Suggested Citation

Voeten, Erik, Populism and Backlashes Against International Courts (February 2, 2019). Forthcoming, Perspectives on Politics , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3255764 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3255764

Erik Voeten (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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