The European Court’s Political Power: Selected Essays

In This Review

The European Court’s Political Power: Selected Essays
By Karen Alter
Oxford University Press, 2009
280 pp. $75.00

Over the last half century, with little or no black-letter mandate, the European Court of Justice has single-handedly asserted the supremacy of European Community law over national law, the right of individuals to invoke European Community law in court, and its own ultimate responsibility to adjudicate that law's meaning. What is surprising is not that the ECJ handed down these decisions but that national courts -- and with them the nation-states of Europe -- assented to them, even though they were often seen as undermining national sovereignty. Alter is a hardheaded political scientist who recognizes the centrality of traditional factors such as economically self-interested litigants and politicians who support integration, yet she is also a keen legal analyst who acknowledges the ways in which lawyers and judges have forged a limited autonomy for the law. No social scientist has done more to probe the reasons why this evolution has occurred as it has.

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