All FSI Projects

Rule of Law Program

justice scales
justice scales


Thomas C. Heller
Erik Jensen
Gerhard Casper

Today, it is widely recognized that the absence of the rule of law constitutes a critical barrier to economic growth and democractic political development. Increasingly, scholars and policy makers alike are turning their attention toward the concept of economic rights - ranging from broad affirmations of the importance of secure property rights to more particular descriptions of modes of corporate governance - to inform their thinking about growth and development. This broader, more encompassing notion of the rule of law, while welcome in most quarters, creates an entirely new set of challenges, particularly at a time when the very concept of "democratic governance" is undergoing rapid change. 

Significant work on the Rule of Law Program has already begun at Stanford, under the auspices of Thomas Heller, Professor of International Legal Studies at the Law School. The effort has been organized around three broad themes: Rule of Law and Economic Governance; Judicial Uncertainty; and Collective Goods and the Social Investment Practices of Corporations.

Within the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, the program is focusing on issues associated with human rights, comparative constitutionalism, judicial reform and oil dependent producer states. The kinds of questions framing faculty research in these areas include the following:

Human Rights

The idea that human rights should transcend national boundaries and cultural differences is a modern concept. Some governments and societies view the spread of the western human rights movement as a threat to their own cultural values and forms of governance. Should the concept of universal human rights override state laws and cultural practices in non-western countries? And if they do, what implications does this have for the sovereignty of that country? Might western intervention in the name of human rights be viewed as cultural imperialism? The complex issue of how to balance the concept of universal human rights with local values and governance lies at the core of the CDDRL's concern for the Rule of Law and the changing perception of sovereignty.

Comparative Constitutionalism

The demise of communism and colonialism has led to an upsurge in attention to constitutional principles as the exemplar of a state's commitment to the Rule of Law. These new constitutions reflect the background traditions of their location, as well as their aspirations to a new constitutional order resting on the separation of powers, guarantees of representative democracy, and the inclusion of social and economic rights. Why do some of these constitutional orders take firm root, while others are cast aside or ignored? What determines success and failure? What role can and should constitution play in contributing to responsible governance?

Law and Economy in India

This project and associated working papers investigates the connections between law and legal institutions and growth in India against the backdrop vast disparities in growth among the country's sectors and states. Growth in India is not only geographically concentrated, it is also sectorally concentrated in high skill and service related industries. Accordingly, the project focuses on the differences in patterns of growth both across criticall sectors of the economy, as well geographically across key states of India. And it will try to ascertain the extent to which the quality of law and legal institutions explains the differences in patterns of growth. The project will illuminate the under-studied connections and disconnections between legal quality and growth. 

Judicial Reform

A decade of experience with programs designed to promote judicial reform in democratizing countries underscores the need for such initiatives to be more solidly grounded in empirical research. What is the administrative capacity of judicial institutions in post-colonial, newly democratized, and re-formed states to implement reforms? To what degree and under what conditions are cultural, religious, and national differences barriers to reform?

Oil dependent producer states

The project assesses the performance of oil dependent producer states in maximizing economic and social development through the generation and utilization of petroleum revenues. With oil prices moving from one record level to the next the question as to whether and how petro-states manage to turn their wealth in black gold into sustainable development has moved back to the center of debates in academic and policy circles. While a significant body of literature shows that oil states tend to grow slower and to suffer from weaker political institutions than non-oil states few studies have so far analyzed and explained the marked differences we can observe among oil states.