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Lecture series "Ambivalences of Strategic Litigation"

28 April 2020, 17.30 - 19.30h
Aude Lejeune (Lille), Julie Ringelheim (Louvain)
How NGOs turn to litigation: The varying paths towards judicial mobilization. A case study on NGOs combating discrimination in Belgium

Ort: Centre Marc Bloch
Friedrichstraße 191
(7. Etage)
10117 Berlin

Abstract: Socio-legal and political science scholarships have explored how social movements and NGOs invoke legal norms and discourses and what leads them to turn to the judicial system to pursue their public’s rights. According to these works, four types of factors contribute to explain why some NGOs engage in judicial mobilization: the (lack of) political opportunities, the structure of legal opportunities, the internal resources of organizations, or the movement identity. Combining legal and sociological perspectives, this paper explores the conditions under which a selected number of Belgian non-profit organizations have decided to turn to litigation in the last decade to combat discrimination. Based on the analysis of open-ended interviews with NGOs activists, our contribution shows that the history of each group and the relationships their members have developed with activists from other groups and other stakeholders have an impact not only on the decision to litigate but also on the design of the litigation strategy in specific cases.

Our analysis distinguishes three types of organizations with different levels of experience with litigation: the experienced (NGOs which are well-established and who are used to rely on litigation); the neophytes (NGOs which are also well-established but which only recently started to use litigation) and the newcomers (NGOs which have been created in the last ten years in order to address discrimination).

While previous studies have sought to identify the reasons why some NGOs turn to litigation while others do not, we show that among the organizations that resort to judicial action, important variations exist regarding the use and perception of law and litigation.
We argue that, depending on the history of each group and its position within the activist field, the different criteria identified by existing literature do not play the same role in the decision to litigate and the design of the litigation strategy. Doing so, our paper contributes to existing literature by putting into light the varying attitudes towards judicial mobilization that can be observed among organizations that use litigation as well as the complex interactions between political opportunities, legal opportunities, internal resources, and group identity.

Aude Lejeune is Faculty Researcher in Sociology with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and with the Center for European Research on Administrative, Political, and Social Sciences (CERAPS) at the University of Lille. She received her PhD from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, France, and the University of Liege, Belgium. Her research focuses on comparative law and society in Europe, antidiscrimination policies, and disability rights. She recently published “Legal Mobilization Within the Bureaucracy: Disability Rights and the Implementation of Antidiscrimination Law in Sweden” (Law and Policy, 2017). She is currently working (with A. Spire) on inequalities in the access to the civil justice system in France.

Julie Ringelheim is Senior Researcher with the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS) and with the Louvain University Centre for Philosophy of Law (UCLouvain, Belgium). She also teaches Sociology of Law and Human Rights Law at UCLouvain. Graduate in Law from the free University of Brussels, LLM from Cambridge University (Trinity Hall College), she receives her PhD from the European University Institute (Florence). Her areas of research include international and European antidiscrimination law, the use of law by social movements, and equality theories. Her recent article, co-authored with Aude Lejeune, “Workers with Disabilities between Legal Changes and Persisting Exclusion: How Contradictory Rights Shape Legal Mobilization”, is forthcoming in the Law & Society Review.