In This Review

The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights
The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights
By Karen Alter
480 pp, Princeton University Press, 2014

This pathbreaking book illuminates a quiet revolution that has reshaped international law, and it will change many readers’ views about the new global legal system. Today, at least 24 international courts and organizations review administrative decisions, assess government compliance with international law, and pass judgment on constitutional questions. These include global bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the World Trade Organization, and regional legal bodies in Africa, Europe, and Latin America. These bodies have issued thousands of rulings, and, as Alter argues, they are not simply settling disputes between governments but also offering authoritative views about what it actually means to follow the rule of law in specific policy areas. In detailed case studies, Alter examines when and how such courts and organizations exercise political influence. She masterfully demonstrates how, as the idea of global governance takes root, governments increasingly take pains to be seen as following the law -- a development that has greatly increased the power of international courts and judges.