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Copyright (c) 2015 The Yale Journal of International Law, Inc. 
The Yale Journal of International Law

Article: Reforming the State from Afar: Structural Reform Litigation at the Human Rights Courts

Winter, 2015

The Yale Journal of International Law

40 Yale J. Int'l L. 1


Alexandra Huneeus+


During the 1950s and 1960s, landmark rulings ordering school desegregation, prison reform, and other structural changes transformed civil litigation in the United States. The most striking feature of the new model of litigation, Abram Chayes argued, was the metamorphosis of the judge into a "creator and manager of complex forms of ongoing relief, which have widespread effects on persons not before the court and require the judge's continuing involvement in administration and implementation." 1 In structural reform litigation cases, courts issue complex equitable remedies, and then remain seized of the matter until the remedies are implemented, with judges guiding and monitoring - at times in great detail - the creation or transformation of state bureaucracies.

As constitutional courts and the practice of judicial review spread throughout the world in the 1980s and 1990s, 2 structural reform litigation began to appear, and even to flourish, outside the United States. Today high courts in Colombia, Costa Rica, India, and South Africa respond to certain social and economic rights-based claims with orders mandating significant reform of how government provides particular services. 3 Scholars differ over whether and under what circumstances such rulings are effective in altering the distribution of material and symbolic goods in a society. 4 But none dispute that the spreading practice fundamentally alters the judicial role. 5

The latest and perhaps most unexpected chapter in the evolution of structural reform litigation is international. With the turn of the millennium, the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court ...
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