For aficionados of comparative constitutional and judicial politics, the last month provided lots to chew on. With all the media attention and academic buzz surrounding the USSC ruling on the so-called Obamacare program, other, more blatant illustrations of constitutional and judicial politics in action have kept popping. Here is a small collection from the past few weeks alone:
In Pakistan, the Supreme Court, led by the once ousted and later reinstated CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, disqualified PM Yousuf Raza Gilani based on his earlier contempt conviction for refusing to re-open a corruption investigation against President Asif Zardari. Last week, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the new PM, Raja Pervez Ashraf, to re-open the investigation, and granted him two weeks to respond. It remains to be seen what will Zardari and Ashraf’s reaction be. Watching the fight closely is former PM Nawaz Shariff, a bitter rival of Zardari and supporter of “judicial independence” and of CJ Chaudhry (at least as long as the Chaudhry court continues to put pressure on Zardari).
The Jurist website reports that last week, the Constitutional Court of Romania accused PM Victor Ponta (who is also facing unrelated plagiarism allegations) of contempt as he continues to ignore an earlier ruling by the Court that his opponent, President Traian Basescu, should represent the country at a European Council meeting. The Court also accused Ponta of attempting to dismiss some of its judges who supported the pro-Basescu ruling.
Australian news agencies report that in late May, police in Papua New-Guinea arrested and charged SC Chief Justice Salamo Injia and Justice Nicholas Kirriwoma with sedition. Both judges were part of the three-judge panel that ruled for the second time that former PM Michael Somare should be reinstated. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill took office last year after Somare was ruled ineligible because of an extended absence due to illness. The Supreme Court ruled in December 2011 that Somare should be reinstated and ruled again in May 2012 that he should serve as caretaker prime minister during the upcoming elections. O’Neill has refused to accept these rulings. A three-week national elections process is currently underway. The results will likely be challenged before the Supreme Court. Each side wants it to be “its” court.
Meanwhile in Egypt, the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the parliament, having found that one-third of its members were elected illegally. This is a true judicial gift to Egypt’s millitary, and may well be one of the most important political decisions the Supreme Constitutional Court has made. Haider Ala Hamoudi of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law offers an interesting analysis of the Court’s reasoning here.
While each of these judicial wars, from Pakistan and Egypt to Romania and PNG is qualitatively different from others, one thing is clear: the study of law and courts has never been as crucial to comparative politics, and to political science more generally, as it is today.