Stephan Stohler

JD, Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Politics and Public Law

Dissertation Title:  "Reconstructing Rights: Judicial Interpretation of Equality Rights in Constitutional Democracies"

Committee:  Rogers Smith (chair), Brendan O'Leary, and Charles Epp


When and why do judges deviate from established legal doctrine in cases concerning equal protection?  Contrary to existing theories of judicial behavior, which do not adequately explain variation in judicial commitment to legal doctrine, I argue that ideas promoted by ideological coalitions drive shifts in constitutional interpretation over time. In my dissertation, I apply and test a model of political development -- which stresses the role of ideas in political coalition building -- to better explain why judges in India (since 1950), South Africa (since 1993), and the United States (since 1954) abandon legal doctrine.  I demonstrate how coalition entrepreneurs, intent on gaining political power, strategically elaborate new ideas about the scope of constitutional rights protections.  These ideas attract additional coalition members, who find their interests furthered by new constitutional understandings. Strong coalitions also attempt to influence judicial behavior either through appointments or through persuasion via judges' professional and partisan networks. Doctrinal shifts occur when the median judge on a high court shifts ideological coalitions.

University of Pennsylvania
208 S. 37th Street, Room 217
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Edward Mansfield Chair
Matthew Levendusky Graduate Chair
John Lapinski Undergraduate Chair