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The Politics of Judicial Economy at the World Trade Organization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2010

Marc L. Busch
Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. E-mail:
Krzysztof J. Pelc
Princeton University, N.J., and Department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. E-mail:
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International institutions often moderate the legal decisions they render. World Trade Organization (WTO) panels do this by exercising judicial economy. This practice, which is evident in 41 percent of all rulings, involves the decision not to rule on some of the litigants' arguments. The constraint is that it can be appealed. We argue that panels exercise judicial economy when the wider membership is ambivalent about the future consequences of a broader ruling. This is proxied by the “mixed” (that is, nonpartisan) third-party submissions, which are informative because they are costly, jeopardizing a more decisive legal victory that would benefit these governments too. We empirically test this hypothesis, and find that mixed third-party submissions increase the odds of judicial economy by upwards of 68 percent. This suggests that panels invoke judicial economy to politically appease the wider WTO membership, and not just to gain the litigants' compliance in the case at hand.

Research Article
Copyright © The IO Foundation 2010

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