Lunch Seminar with Johan Schaffer and Jon Skiple

Topical attention to rights: Evidence from the Supreme Court of Norway

How and when do rights claims rise on the agendas of courts? Since rights litigation is an integral part of the judicialization of politics, measuring judicial attention to rights is essential to determining the changing role of courts in society. Existing literature has chiefly relied on measuring the annual proportion of rights cases on a court’s agenda, which is useful for describing general trends. However, the annual proportion measure limits scholar’s opportunity to fully understand how and when courts give attention to rights, since it classifies issue content in court cases dichotomously: if the primary issue in the case concern rights the case is coded as a rights case. Since court cases may consist of multiple issues and since rights are not monolithic, this paper proposes a more sophisticated way of measuring judicial attention to rights using structural topic models (STMs), a quantitative text analysis used for identifying the latent topical dimensions and assessing the effects of covariates on these dimensions. We apply STMs to a corpus of judicial decisions from the Norwegian Supreme Courts from 1970 to 2015. Our paper makes two contributions. First, by measuring judicial attention as latent topical dimensions, our measurement approach allows us to define courts’ relative attention to different types of rights both within and between cases. Second, applying STMs allow us to determine how courts topical attention to rights vary with changes in e.g. institutional protection of legal rights and the composition of the courts.

Speaker bios

Jon Kåre Skiple, PhD, is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE). Skiple specializes in judicial behavior and public opinion of courts.

He has written his dissertation, including several articles, on the interplay between institutional arrangements and judicial preferences on the Norwegian and Danish supreme courts.

Johan Karlsson Schaffer is an associate professor at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on the politics of human rights, especially in the Nordic context, and political and international theory.

His publications include articles in Social Epistemology, Review of International Studies, Political Studies and International Theory, as well as the volumes Moral and political conceptions of human rights and The legitimacy of international human rights regimes (Cambridge UP).

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