Decision makers in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is probably the world’s most influential international court, functioning in many respects as a federal supreme court.

As of today, little research exists on how judges enter the Court and how its internal organization affect decision making. This project opens the black box of these decision-making processes to consider governments’ and judges’ strategic behavior.

I show that judges’ performance and governments’ political preferences are intertwined both when judges are appointed and when cases are allocated.

Judicial appointments to the CJEU

  • “Will do? Selecting Judges on the Basis of Policy Preferences or Performance Indicators” with Daniel Naurin presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions 2019 (Mons)

Are governments’ appointments of judges to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) politicized? And does this prevent them for emphasizing competence? The power to select judges is key to representative institutions’ control over the judiciary. Nevertheless, while the CJEU is the most powerful of international courts and motor of the judicialization of politics in Europe, the selection criteria for judicial appointments have remained a blank in the literature.

Judges in the CJEU sit for six years renewable. All cases are decided collectively and in secrecy, so the policies judges favor are unknown. However, their influence – in terms of the positions they obtain –– is known. We therefore start by assuming that judges are selected for their preferences, but sanctioned for their performance.

Graphic showing that the likelihood of replacing a sitting judge increases with the distance between the economic preferences of the appointing and reappointing government.

We rely on original data on all potential reappointment decisions to the CJEU over a 60-year period, biographical information and key performance measures of judges’ activities at the Court.

We find on the one hand that governments with different economic preferences hold different preferences over judges. That is, a change in government preferences increases the likelihood of changing the sitting judge. On the other hand, we find that governments – regardless of their political preferences – are more likely to retain judges who have obtained positions of influence.

A draft version can be found here.

Strategic decision making in the CJEU

  • “Instrument of Power or Weapon of the Weak? Litigation and Legal Representation Before the European Court of Justice” with Tommaso Pavone presented at EPSA Annual Meeting 2020 (zoom)

The proliferation of regional organizations and international courts has expanded opportunities for nongovernmental actors to pursue transnational litigation. In the European Union (EU) legal mobilization before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has been particularly vigorous, yet a core puzzle remains unresolved: Does litigating at the ECJ empower the ‘have nots’, or does it reinforce the voice of the ‘haves’?

While some studies point to the judicial expansion of EU rights protections, others stress the resource advantages of corporate litigants and their ability to mobilize specialist ‘Euro-lawyers.’ Drawing on party capability theories and leveraging the first dataset of parties and lawyers in all national court cases referred to the ECJ, we assess whether businesses increasingly obtain better legal representation before the Court and how this advantage shapes judicial policymaking. Our longitudinal results illuminate shifting patterns of legal mobilization that partially reconcile the debate over whether litigation before the ECJ tends to advance individual rights or magnify corporate power.

Shiny App Iframe

  • “Measuring the evolution of CJEU case law using word embeddings” presented at Big Insight - a center for research-based innovation, Norwegian Computing Center 2019 (Oslo)

To study the conditions for judicial activism – self-restraint, initiation or expansion of case law – we need a consistent and comparable measure of court output. Can machine learning help us in this respect? This research note discusses ways of comparing court documents in order to obtain such measures. The focus is on word embeddings, which allow researchers to identify similar – but not identical – terms and use them as building blocks for document-level comparisons.

Effect of judgment similarity on academic attention (annotations in legal journals).

Analyzing the evolution of case law requires researchers to read and compare judgments. It is a resource-intensive process both in terms of competence and number of working hours. Assessing the outcome of a case typically requires familiarity with legal precedent in the court, the doctrines under- pinning rulings as well at the type of cases brought before the tribunal. In other words, - depending on the task – the researcher needs a good grasp of similar cases in the past (i.e. legal precedent) and/or the future (i.e. its value as a precedent) as well as the field-specific vocabulary.

The purpose of this research note is to train a model to make such comparisons for us. To obtain word embeddings, I apply a word2vec algorithm on 30999 (machine-readable) legal texts produced by the members of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) itself. I use these to construct a do- main specific vocabulary of similar words. The similarities can then be used to identify and compare relevant documents based on their word occurrences.

A draft version can be found here.

Published work

If who makes decisions within courts matters for the outcome of cases and their reception, then studying how cases and judges are matched is essential to understanding judicial independence.