Scholars discuss research, possible collaboration on rule of law


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FSI Director Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar leads a discussion during a workshop focused on governance and the rule of law.
Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

With the American government shut down over congressional budget battles, it seems like a particularly opportune time for scholars to talk about the challenges of governance and the rule of law.

But the political scientists and legal experts who gathered this week for a rule of law workshop organized by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Stanford Law School probably didn’t see this crisis coming.

Photo Credit: Rod Searcey

“When we first began talking, Gerhard said the rule of law and governance are not peculiar only to developing counties,” Paul Brest, a professor and former dean of the law school, said as he recalled discussing such a workshop with Gerhard Casper, a constitutional law expert and FSI senior fellow. “I don’t think he predicted where the United States would be today.”

The half-day workshop brought together 20 scholars associated with FSI and the law school who discussed their individual research and explored possibilities for collaboration.

Their wide-ranging discussions covered the definitions and measurement of rule of law, governance in developed and developing countries, political participation, partisanship, and policy implementation.

“How do you implement what sounds like a thoughtful, abstract idea?” asked Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, FSI’s director and law school professor, in discussing the complexity of the concept of rule of law. “There is something about the rule of law that has to go beyond whether a statute is complied with. A society also has to think smartly about how to manage discretion.”

But bending the rules without breaking the rule of law “is a difficult matter," said law school Professor Jenny Martinez – and one worthy of academic attention.

“Most well-functioning legal systems … involve a certain amount of discretion,” she said. “But that’s something we can explore.”

Discussion sessions were led by Martinez and Cuéllar, as well as Erik Jensen and Bernadette Meyler; Bruce Cain, Larry Diamond and Nathaniel Persily; Francis Fukuyama and Avner Greif.

“There’s a lot of work going on across campus focusing on governance and the rule of law,” Brest said. “Getting together to begin discussing that could create some sort of networks and a whole that is greater than the individual parts.”