Karen J. Alter

Document Type


Repository Date



International Law, International Courts

Subject Categories

Conflict of Laws | Courts | International Law | Law | Law Enforcement and Corrections


This chapter is part of an upcoming interdisciplinary volume on international law and politics. The chapter defines four judicial roles states have delegated to international courts (ICs) and documents the delegation of dispute settlement, administrative review, enforcement and constitutional review jurisdiction to ICs based on a coding of legal instruments defining the jurisdiction of 25 ICs. I show how the design of ICs varies by judicial role and argue that the delegation of multiple roles to ICs helps explain the shift in IC design to include compulsory jurisdiction and access for nonstate actors to initiate litigation. I am interested in the multiple roles ICs play because they allow us to appreciate the many different contributions ICs make to international politics. ICs do oversee state compliance with international agreements, but this is not all they do. Finally, I explain the relevance of this analysis for two prevalent debates regarding ICs; 1) whether we should conceive of ICs as Agents or Trustees and 2) whether compulsory jurisdiction and private litigant access for ICs inherently features undermine national sovereignty.