Current Institutional Affiliation
Deputy Dean; Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Law School, University of Chicago

Tom Ginsburg is the Deputy Dean and Leo Spitz Professor of International Law at the University of Chicago, where he also holds an appointment in the Political Science Department.  He holds B.A., J.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. He currently co-directs the Comparative Constitutions Project, an NSF-funded data set cataloging the world’s constitutions since 1789.  His books include Judicial Reputation: A Comparative Theory (2015) (with Nuno Garoupa); The Endurance of National Constitutions (2009) (with Zachary Elkins and James Melton), which won the best book award from Comparative Democratization Section of American Political Science Association; and Judicial Review in New Democracies (2003). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Before entering law teaching, he served as a legal advisor at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, The Hague, Netherlands, and he has consulted with numerous international development agencies and governments on legal and constitutional reform.  He currently serves a senior advisor on Constitution Building to International IDEA.

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Professor, Law and Political Science, University of Illinois / Urbana-Champaign
The Politics of Legal Reform in Northeast Asia

This research project is designed to examine, in comparative perspective, the major programs of legal and judicial reform that are taking place in Northeast Asia. Japan, Korea and Taiwan all shared a common legal tradition, rooted in the particular Japanese adaptation of European institutions in the late 19th century. These institutions were subsequently transferred, in part, to Korea and Taiwan during the colonial period. I call the particular configuration of institutions the Northeast Asian Legal Complex, and it centered around a small but high quality judiciary; a highly restricted legal profession; and administrative insulation through law. The complex proved remarkably stable, and arguably contributed to the region’s phenomenal economic growth during the period from roughly 1950 to 1990. However, in the 1990s, major upheavals prompted elites in all three countries to initiate programs of legal reform. In Taiwan and Korea, the impetus was heavily political and associated with the democratization process, as new actors sought to advance agendas through the legal system. In Japan, the primary impetus was the post-bubble economic crisis, but the shape of the reforms was influenced by the political system as well. As the institutions have transformed, they have influenced each other, both within and across countries. My project will document the reforms and explore the comparative politics underlying them. Specific reforms to be considered include the adoption of new systems of legal education, including graduate level law schools in Japan and Korea; the creation of new systems of administrative law that change state-society relations; the expansion of participation of the public, including new systems of lay assessors and new public involvement in judicial appointments; and expansion of bar passage, formerly highly restricted. For each of these reforms, the task will be to describe the institutional politics behind the changes. This will involve obtaining crucial documents, such as the 2001 report of the Justice System Reform Council in Japan, as well as interviewing scholars, judges and practitioners in all three countries.