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Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Norman Dwight Harris Professor of Political Science and Law
Co-Director of the Global Capitalism and Law Research Group
Co-Chair of the Organization of Women Faculty


Areas of Focus

  • Multilateralism
  • Politics of international law
  • International regime complexity
  • Global economic governance
  • International courts
  • World Trade Organization


  • Backlash against international institutions
  • Fixing the World Trade Organization
  • When international courts are effective
  • America's international leadership
  • Ethics in international affairs


Alter is the author or editor of six books and sixty articles and book chapters. Her award winning book "The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights" (Princeton University Press, 2014) provides a framework for comparing and understanding the influence of the 24 international courts, and for conceptualizing how different domains of domestic and international politics are transformed through the creation of international courts.

Alter co-edited the Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication (Oxford University Press, 2014) and has published extensively on judicial politics in the European Union, including two books: "The European Court’s Political Power" (Oxford University Press, 2009) and "Establishing the Supremacy of European Law" (Oxford University press, 2001).

She is a long-time collaborator with Laurence R. Helfer researching the law and politics of international legal transplants in the Andes and Africa. Their book, "Transplanting International Courts: The Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice," empirically evaluates 30 years of the Andean Tribunal’s litigation, explaining its successes and failures.

The recently published "International Court Authority" (Oxford University Press, 2018), co-edited with Laurence Helfer and Mikael Rask Madsen, includes a new approach to studying international court authority, applied by 19 interdisciplinary scholars to 13 different international courts.