Udi Sommer

Udi Sommer
Senior Lecturer (American Associate Professor)

Department of Political Science

follow me on twitter @oudee

linkedin.com page

Tel Aviv University, Naftali 529
Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, ISRAEL
+972547137053

udi.sommer@gmail.com

Research

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Books:

  1. Producing Reproductive Rights: Determining Abortion Policy Worldwide(Cambridge University Press 2019) (with Aliza Forman-Rabinovici)
  2. Legal Path Dependence and the Long Arm of the Religious State: Gay Rights and Sodomy Laws in a Comparative Perspective(SUNY Press 2016) (with Victor Asal)
  3. A Supreme Agenda: Strategic Case Selection on the Supreme Court of the United States(Palgrave-MacMillan 2014)
  4. Home but Away: The Experience of Immigrant Israeli Parents in America(2010) (in Hebrew)

 

Peer Reviewed Articles:

  1. Reproductive Policy Makers: Comparative Analyses of the Influences of International and Domestic Institutions on Reproductive Rights” 2018 in Public Administration (with Aliza Forman Rabinovici)

Do policies protecting women’s rights correspond with norm change at the or the level of international institutions? We examine this question, comparing domestic and international institutional activity in correlation with reproductive health policy change, specifically, abortion access policy. At the domestic level, we examine female legislators and policies set to encourage gender equality, namely, electoral gender quotas. In the international arena, our theory distinguishes regional from international inter-governmental bodies. Original data with measurement innovations introduced here—including the Comparative Abortion Policy Index (CAPI1 and CAPI2)—are analyzed for over 150 nations for close to two decades. We find a heretofore-overlooked relationship between international entities and reproductive health. Gender quotas, however, do not correspond with the general association state level between female representation and pro-women policy. When researchers and policymakers consider gender quotas to promote women’s rights, they may be advised to encourage female political participation through more organic means.

  1. “A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Political Rights, 1981- 2004: The Role of Legal Traditions”. forthcoming in 2019. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy (with Victor Asal)

We focus on the legal system to explain cross-national and temporal variance in women’s political rights. While women hold up half the sky, compared to alternative legal systems, we find that Common Law is correlated with less political rights for women. The concepts of political discontinuity and legal memory are central to our theoretical framework. Political discontinuity occurs in times of deep political disruptions, for instance during revolutionary periods. Whereas typically revolutions did not readily yield lasting improvements in women’s political rights, individual and systemic forms of legal memory meant that later progress towards political equality was facilitated. It is hard to overestimate the influence of legal systems on women’s rights around the world. Using available data for 148 countries from 1981-2004, we find that legal systems’ effect is robust to inclusion of more recent periods of upheaval, various model specifications and functional forms, disparate datasets and different outcome variables.

 

  1. Explaining the Birthright Citizenship Lottery: Longitudinal and Cross-National Evidence for Key Determinants”. 2018. Regulation & Governance (with Omer Solodoch)

In the modern nation-state, birthright citizenship laws—jus soli and jus sanguinis—are the two main gateways to sociopolitical membership. The vast majority of the world’s population (97%) obtain their citizenship as a matter of birthright. Yet because comparative research has been focused on measuring and explaining the multiple components of citizenship and immigration policies, a systematic analysis of birthright citizenship is lacking. We bridge this gap by analyzing the birthright component in prominent databases on citizenship policies and complementing them with original data and measures. This allows us to systematically test institutional and electoral explanations for contemporary and over-time variation in birthright citizenship. Institutional explanations—legal codes and colonial history—are consistently associated with limitations on birthright law. As for electoral explanations, not the traditional left-/right-wing divide, but rather specific electoral powers—Nationalist, Socialist and Social-Democratic parties—are linked with reforms in birthright regimes.

  1. Examining extrajudicial killings: Discriminant analyses of human rights’ violations”. 2019 Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict (with Victor Asal)

Extrajudicial killings are cases where a government kills citizens with no judicial oversight. We offer first-of-its-kind analyses of this phenomenon that by now is widely discussed in the context of international politics. The theoretical framework proposed here underscores the importance of two pillars: an independent judiciary and violent conflicts. Ordered logistic regression models and GEE time-series cross-sectional analyses with data for 146 countries from 1981–2004 lend support to our theory. Furthermore, the analyses compare extrajudicial killings as a political phenomenon with other phenomena they are often associated with or even lumped together with in empirical analyses. Those include political imprisonment and political disappearance. We find that in various ways extrajudicial killings are indeed unique.

  1. An Impediment to Gender Equality?: Religion’s Influence on Development and Reproductive Policy” 2018. World Development (with Aliza Forman-Rabinovici)

The effects of religion on development in the area of gender equality have been considered substantial in academic work as well as in popular and political discourse. A common understanding is that religion depresses women’s rights in general and reproductive and abortion rights in particular. The literature on reproductive rights, however, is disproportionately focused on Western cases, and is limited in its definition of religion as a variable. What happens, though, when we switch to a more inclusive framework? To what extent do a variety of religious variables correlate with policy on reproductive rights outside of the Western context? We examine the relevance of the religion-abortion link in a broad comparative framework. We introduce the Comparative Abortion Index and test the effects of a wide range of denominations and religious characteristics on reproductive rights. Our study finds that reproductive rights correlate only with some religious denominations, while others have no significance. Additionally, while religiosity correlates with reproductive policy, variables such as religious freedom, separation of religion and state and religious diversity show no correlative effect. The comparative analyses suggest that the connection between religion and development in general—and in the area of women’s rights in particular—is far more nuanced than previously thought.

  1. Political and Legal Antecedents of Affirmative Action: A Comparative Framework” 2018. Journal of Public Policy (with Victor Asal)

Much of the literature on affirmative action is normative. Further, in scholarship that takes an empirical approach to examine this topic, the object of inquiry is typically the ramifications of such provisions; most notably the extent to which they foster social transformation. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the antecedents of affirmative action. This work examines what variables systematically predict affirmative action. We focus on the policy feedback literature and compensatory justice frameworks to examine the effects of democracy, modernization and globalization on affirmative action programs. Time-series cross-sectional analyses of data for hundreds of groups from all over the globe for the period 1985-2003 confirm our hypotheses. This is the first work to examine affirmative action programs in a large-N framework of such scale. We find that such programs systematically correlate with democracy, modernization and globalization.

  1. Women, Demography and Politics: How Lower Fertility Rates Lead to Democracy”. 2018 in Demography

Where connections between demography and politics are examined in the literature, it is largely in the context of the effects of male aspects of demography on phenomena such as political violence. This project aims to place the study of demographic variables’ influence on politics, particularly on democracy, squarely within the scope of political and social sciences—and—to focus on the effects of woman-related demographics, namely fertility rates. I test the hypothesis that demographic variables—female-related predictors in particular—have an independent effect on political structure. Comparing different countries over time, when fertility rates decline, we observe a growth in democracy. In the theoretical framework developed, it is family structure, and the economic and political status of women that account for this change at the macro and micro levels. Findings based on data for over 140 countries over 3 decades are robust when controlling not only for alternative effects, but also for reverse causality and data limitations.

  1. Ideological influences on governance and regulation: The comparative case of supreme courts” 2017. Regulation & Governance(with Keren Weinshalland Ya’acov Ritov)

A key influence on governance and regulation is the ideology of individual decisionmakers. However, certain branches of government – such as courts – while wielding wide ranging regulatory powers, are expected to do so with no attitudinal influence. We posit a dynamic response model to investigate attitudinal behavior in different national courts. Our ideological scores are estimated based on probability models that formalize the assumption that judicial decisions consist of ideological, strategic, and jurisprudential components. The Dynamic Comparative Attitudinal Measure estimates the attitudinal decisionmaking on the institution as a whole. Additionally, we estimate Ideological Ideal Point Preference for individual justices. Empirical results with original data for political and religious rights rulings in the Supreme Courts of the United States, Canada, India, the Philippines, and Israel corroborate the measures’ validity. Future studies can utilize Ideological Ideal Point Preference and the Dynamic Comparative Attitudinal Measure to cover additional courts, legal spheres, and time frames, and to estimate government deference.

  1. International Effects on the Security Wall Rulings of the Israeli High Court” 2017. Israel Studies Review

With the ever-growing significance of international law both domestically and internationally, courts mediate much of the give and take between the international system and the national political arenas, thus acting in settings where global and local are mixed. Such a pivotal position, I argue, lends courts the ability to maximize a twofold utility, which is inextricably linked. First, on the international level, judicial insti- tutions play an increasingly important role and form what is essentially a transnational epistemic community. Second, on the domestic level, courts capitalize on this pivotal position to become increasingly central in the decision-making process, forming alliances with other domestic players and thereby securing the implementation of judicial rulings. A case study of decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the security fence Israel built around the Occupied Territories is offered as an empirical test for the Court-Pivot Dual Utility Model that I present in this article.

  1. Translating Justice: The International Organization of Constitutional Courts.” 2016. Law & Policy, 38(2) (with Olga Frishman)

What is the international organization of national constitutional courts? This article develops a theoretical framework to analyze this question and tests it empirically with original data of translated opinions. Justices of different nations form an emerging epistemic community, which is congealed due to common practices as well as to competition and selectiveness throughout the judicial career. Opinions translated into English as the lingua franca are pivotal for communication within this epistemic community. Through engaging in a transnational judicial dialogue, and particularly as far as this dialogue concerns legal citations, this community uses international law as a key guide to finding equilibrium solutions at national and international levels. Five sources of international law overwhelmingly dominate. In addition, we find evidence in the collegial game within the different courts for the existence of a transnational epistemic community of Supreme Court justices.

  1. Setting the Agenda of the United States Supreme Court? Organized Interests and the Decision to File and Amicus Curiae Brief at Cert”. 2015. Justice System Journal 36(2): 119-137. (with Katie Zuberand Jonathan Parent)

Past research indicates that amicus briefs influence the Supreme Court’s decision to issue a writ of certiorari, however we know relatively little about the reasons that lead interest groups to file such briefs. We seek to explain how organized interests make decisions about whether or not to file amicus curiae briefs during case selection, and examine the factors that influence the total number of amicus briefs filed in each case. We find that certain factors influence amicus activity during this early stage of decision-making including the presence of the solicitor general as amicus curiae, case salience, and the issue areas involved in litigation.

  1. Is Certiorari Contingent on Litigant Behavior? Petitioner’s Role in Strategic Auditing.” 2012. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (with Maxwell Makand Andrew Sidman)

Complementing the burgeoning literature on agenda setting on the Supreme Court of the United States, this paper addresses a key question heretofore overlooked – is the justices’ choice to review a decision independent of the selection of cases for review by the litigants? We argue that the certiorari process cannot be modeled as an independent one. Rather, it is inextricably linked with and essentially contingent on the behavior of litigants, who bring the case to the Supreme Court. This dependence of the Court is important both at the level of theory and at the empirical level and ignoring it entails bias in the estimation process. Using an original database, which includes the universe of religion Free Exercise cases decided at the Courts of Appeals from 1968-2006, we find significant selection effects. Factors that influence decisions on certiorari are dependent on the behavior of petitioners and should be modeled as such.

  1. Institutional Paths to Policy Change: Judicial Versus Nonjudicial Repeal of Sodomy Laws”. 2013. Law and Society Review (with Victor AsalKatie Zuberand Jonathan Parent)

What variables lead judicial and non-judicial decision-making bodies to introduce policy change? In the theoretical framework proposed, the path dependent nature of law has a differential impact on courts and legislatures. Likewise, certain political institutions including elections and political accountability lead those bodies to introduce policy change under dissimilar circumstances. Global trends, however, affect both institutional paths equally. We test this theory with data for the repeal of sodomy laws in all countries from 1972-2002. Results from two disparate multivariate models overwhelmingly confirm our predictions. The unique institutional position of courts of last resort allows them to be less constrained than legislatures by either legal status quo or political accountability. Globalization, on the other hand, has a comparable effect on both. This work is path breaking in offering a theoretical framework explaining policy change via different institutional paths, systematically testing the framework comparatively and with respect to a policy issue still on the agenda in many countries.

  1. Original Sin: A Cross National Study of the Legality of Homosexual Acts”. 2013. Comparative Political Studies (with Victor Asal)

This paper examines the legality of homosexual acts quantitatively in a cross-national perspective with a large sample of countries from 1972 to 2002. Employing path dependence as its theoretical framework, this work explains how political, economic and legal institutions at the domestic and the international levels affect the life of individual citizens. The rights and privileges of individuals, the findings of this study indicate, are determined by a wide array of variables, including legal origin, economic development, religion, democratization and the position of the nation in the international community. We use recently released cross-national data concerning decriminalization of homosexual intercourse, economic conditions and political institutions. A generalized estimating equation analyzes decriminalization of homosexual acts. A Cox proportional hazards model examines how long it takes to introduce this legal reform. Lastly, this study also offers some important lessons about civil rights and liberties more generally.

  1. Rainbows for Rights: The Role of LGBT Activismin Gay Rights Promotion” 2018 in Societies without Borders (with Victor Asaland Amanda Murdie)

Scholarship on gay rights has systematically examined structural influences cross-nationally with only anecdotal evidence for the effects of advocacy in that realm. Likewise, the literature on political activism has largely focused on the effects of advocacy in the case of physical integrity rights. This project offers theoretical and empirical contributions to both of these literatures. In the context of the political consequences of activism, we expand the scope to a new issue area using systematic large-N analyses and we develop theoretical expectations concerning the politics of activism in cases where distinct groups with diametrically opposed goals are involved in the same campaign. Indeed, we not only find effects for LGBT advocacy on the time until decriminalization of sodomy but we also identify how such effects are contingent on the resources available to the countermovement.

  1. A Cross-National Analysis of the Guarantees of Rights”. 2013. The International Political Science Review

What are the predictors of right guarantees at the level of individual countries? We examine this question within the context of what factors lead certain countries, but not others, to have legislation prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace between 1972-2002. In the theoretical framework, a combination of domestic forces (past inclusion of minorities, culture and democratic conditions) and global trends (regulation by supranational bodies and globalization) predict guarantees of rights. To test the theory, GEE time-series cross-sectional analyses are performed on data from 161 countries. The results, which are robust to changes in model specification and alternative measurement schemes, confirm our key hypotheses. We conclude by discussing the implications of this research for the study of rights generally.

  1. Globalization, Threat and Religious Freedom”. 2012. Political Studies (with Pazit Ben-Nun Bloomand Gizem Arikan)

While arguably central to the human experience, religion is a largely understudied component of social life and of politics. The comparative literature on religion and politics is limited in scope, and offers mostly descriptions of trends. We know, for example, that restrictions on freedom of religion are on the rise worldwide. In our theoretical framework, the recently higher universal levels of globalization combine with other sources of threat to account for the trend away from religious freedom. As threat to the majority religion increases, due to globalization and an increasing number of minority religions, freedom of religion is on the decline. Data for two decades from 147 nations are used to test hypotheses. Time-series cross-sectional and mediation models estimated at different levels of analysis with data from two independent sources confirm that threat systematically accounts for changes in religious freedom, with globalization playing a key role.

  1. Can Faith Limit Immorality? The Politics of Religion and Corruption”. 2012. Democratization (with Pazit Ben-Nun Bloomand Gizem Arikan)

Critically considering scholarship relating religiosity to ethical behavior, we contend that religion is systematically related to levels of corruption, and that the nature of this relationship is contingent on the presence of democratic institutions. In democracies, where political institutions are designed to inhibit corrupt conduct, the morality provided by religion is related to attenuated corruption. Conversely, in systems lacking democratic institutions, moral behavior is not tantamount to staying away from corrupt ways. Accordingly, in non-democratic contexts, religion would not be associated with decreased corruption. Time-series cross-sectional analyses of aggregate data for 129 countries for 12 years as well as individual level analyses of data from the World Values Surveys strongly corroborate the predictions of our theory. The correlation of religion with reduced corruption is conditional on the extent to which political institutions are democratic.

  1. Representative Appointments: The Effect of Women’s Groups in Contentious Supreme Court Confirmations”. 2013. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, 34: 1-22 Lead Article

A large share of decision makers in modern democratic systems are appointed. To what degree do those officials represent con- stituents? Representation in this case is determined in part by the extent to which constituents influence the appointment process. This article examines the influence of women’s organized inter- ests and constituency preferences on Supreme Court confirmation votes. With topics such as sexual harassment, privacy, and Roe v. Wade looming large, gender politics became a salient issue during confirmation battles in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has remained so since. Original data from the contentious appoint- ments of Justices David Souter, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor are analyzed. Results confirm that women’s organized interests and popular preferences have an impact on contentious nominations. Implications for popular influ- ences on appointments and for representation in government writ large are discussed.

  1. Judicial Decision Making in Times of Financial Crises: State Supreme Courts and Mortgage Moratorium Laws in the Great Depression.” 2011. Judicature 95(2): 68-77 (with Quan Li)

The housing market was a major element in the financial crisis of the 1930s and has been pivotal in the current recession. Government reactions to the crises ran the gamut from stimulus plans to far reaching legislative measures. This paper focuses on the behavior of one governmental branch, the judiciary, and its role in the crises. In our theoretical framework, statutorily mandated judicial discretion plays a key role in influencing judicial decisions in times of crisis after controling for the effects of ideology, law, institutions, and economic conditions. We test our hypotheses with an original database that consists of state Supreme Court decisions on mortgage moratorium laws between 1933 and 1945. The results not only buttress our hypotheses, but also shed new light on how American courts operate when assigned a key position in times of economic crises. In conclusion and based on our findings, we speculate on the potential role of courts in the current crisis.

  1. Setting a Supreme Agenda: Opinion Minded Justices and the Decision on Certiorari.” 2011. Rationality and Society, 23(4): 452-77

Justices on the US Supreme Court are rational and therefore strategic policymakers. Yet, how rational are they? How far into the future would their strategic considerations reach? Due to potential influence on both policy and doctrine, ceteris paribus they find opinion authorship desirable; when selecting cases, in addition to thinking about legal issues and the final disposition, justices strategically consider opinion crafting. To overcome the measurement error inherent to the estimation of rational behavior of the type proposed here, the Simulation Extrapolation protocol is introduced. There is strong support for the notion of doctrine-minded justices at cert. The social implications of such rational behavior are far-reaching; employing this strategy, over the course of her time in office, a justice would be able to considerably influence several policy and legal issues. In closing, implications of strategic behavior on the individual-justice level for the constitutional position of the Court within American society are discussed.

  1. Extreme Dissensus: Why Plurality Opinions Happen on the US Supreme Court” Justice System Journal 31(2), 2010 (with Pamela CorleyArt Wardand Amy Steigerwalt)

Why does the Supreme Court issue plurality decisions?  Plurality decisions on the Supreme Court represent extreme dissensus where no clear majority is formed for any one controlling rationale for the final disposition. Such decisions are important to understand both because they result in the erosion of the Court’s credibility and authority as a source of legal leadership, and because they teach us broader lessons about judicial decision making. In this paper, we provide the first systematic analysis of plurality decisions on the Supreme Court.  We test three possible explanations for plurality decisions – a lack of social consensus, whether the case is legally “hard,” and an explanation based on the strategic interactions between the justices.  We examine all orally argued cases during the 1953-2006 terms to test these three competing, yet not mutually exclusive, hypotheses. We find that splintering is more likely when the Court reviews contentious or politically salient questions, in constitutional cases, and when there is dissensus on the lower court.  We also find that when the Chief Justice assigns the opinion and when the Court is ideologically heterogeneous, plurality decisions are less likely. Our findings thus suggest more broadly that the Chief Justice may use his powers of opinion assignment to encourage consensus and guard against potentially delegitimizing defections. They also suggest that ideological polarization need not necessarily result in dissensus. However, the question going forward is the normative implications for the Court’s decisions when bargaining and accommodation increase and the potential reach and import of these same decisions is likely mitigated.

  1. A Strategic Court and National Security: Comparative Lessons from the Israeli Case.” Israel Studies Forum 25(2), 2010

This paper analyzes decision making in national security cases on the Israeli Supreme Court and draws broader comparative conclusions. In the post-9/11, -7/7 and -3/11 era, security has topped the national agendas in numerous established democracies, with repercussions involving their courts. Analyses of decision-making on national security in Western judiciaries may benefit from lessons from the Israeli Court, which has been a pivotal player in this domain. A formal model analyzes how internal court institutions plus the rationality of individual justices are conducive to strategic Court behavior. Predictions are tested empirically using an original database with security decisions from 1997-2004. The findings indicate that constitutional design, court leadership, ideology of the ruling coalition and interest group activity have influenced decisions of the Israeli Court on national defense. This study builds on and expands existing scholarship on the complex links between law, politics and national security in Israel and beyond.

  1. Beyond Defensive Denials: Evidence from the Blackmun Files for a Broader Scope of Strategic Certiorari.” Justice System Journal 31(3), 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court has the prerogative to set its own agenda. The consequentiality of this decision and the little institutional constraints involved induce justices to select cases strategically. They exercise their gate-keeping capacity with future consequences in mind. Based on original material from the Blackmun Files, this paper examines strategic thinking of a broader scope than the type traditionally described in the literature. On top of dispositional outcomes, the strategic behavior analyzed concerns doctrinal output and policy implications. Thus, strategic conduct during certiorari is attached to a broader institutional context that incorporates various goals of individual justices, the collegial game, the other branches and time. In closing, implications for the constitutional position of the Court are discussed.

  1. Crusades Against Corruption and Institutionally Induced Strategies in the Israeli Supreme Court” Israel Affairs 15(3), 2009

Scholars of the Israeli judiciary have studied strategic behaviour in this system. Yet, relatively little attention has been given to strategic behaviour at the level of the collegial game in the Israeli Supreme Court. This paper closely examines the institutional platform of this Court, and argues that it is conducive to strategic behaviour of individual justices in their interactions with their brethren. The effects of strategic thinking on the part of individual Israeli justices are not limited to the collegial game. Rather, such thinking has had wide reaching ramifications for policymaking in diverse domains such as national security, state and religion and the separation of powers.

 

Peer Reviewed Chapters:

  1. Covert or not Covert: National Strategies During Cyber Conflict” 2019. 11th International Conference on Cyber Conflict: Silent Battle T. Minárik, S. Alatalu, S. Biondi, M. Signoretti, I. Tolga, G. Visky (Eds.) (with Gil Baram)

Anonymity is considered to be a key characteristic of cyber conflict. Indeed, existing accounts in the literature focus on the advantages of the non-disclosure of cyber attacks. Such focus inspires the expectation that countries would opt to maintain covertness. This hypothesis is rejected in an empirical investigation we conducted on victims’ strategies during cyber conflict: in numerous cases, victim states choose to publicly reveal the fact that they had been attacked. These counterintuitive findings are important empirically, but even more so theoretically. They motivate an investigation into the decision to forsake covertness. What does actually motivate states to move into the international arena and publicly expose a cyber attack?

  1. Remote Participants: Lessons about Israeli Identity from the Experience of Israeli Parents in America” in David Tal (editor), Israel Identities: Between East and West (Peer -reviewed edited volume) London: Routledge, due: October 2013 (with Michal Ben Zvi Sommer)

The research presented here examines the implications of the immigration of Israelis to America in terms of their identity, and what we can learn from their parenting experience about Israeli identity more broadly. Immigrant families are becoming an increasingly common element of American society with important political implications for the United States as well as for their homelands. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the number of immigrants living in the United States reached a record high of 37.9 million in 2007, a figure comparable in its proportions to those from the Turn of the Twentieth Century. What is more, approximately one in every ten people identifying themselves as Israeli resides in the United States on a permanent basis. Yet, despite the growing significance of this group, scholars have not thoroughly explored the challenges immigrant families face and the political implications related. Based on a series of in-depth interviews and workshops with Israelis, who live in the big metropolitan areas in North America, we examine how political and national identities are influenced by immigration. To examine this question, we focus on the parenting experience. We investigate the processes of identity evolution and formation as those are reflected in the experience of emigrants as parents, and then draw conclusions about Israeli identity more broadly.

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