in: International studies quarterly: the journal of the International Studies Association, Volume 63, Issue 3, p. 464-476
The rulings of internationals courts are often reduced to "who won?," but much more is at stake. Like other institutions, the World Trade Organization (WTO) offers rulings that balance legal discipline against political constraints. We argue that one way in which the WTO handles politically sensitive issues is by increasing the amount of affect in their rulings. In doing so, judges provide national governments with discursive resources to persuade their domestic audiences of the legitimacy of compliance. To test our expectations, we conduct a text analysis of all rulings rendered by the institution since 1995. Specifically, we find that more politically charged decisions, such as the ones concerning nonfiscal rather than fiscal aspects of national treatment claims, are explained in qualitatively different terms. We also find that, as an issue gets ruled on repeatedly, the amount of affect deployed progressively decreases. In sum, the WTO chooses its words strategically to persuade litigants, and their domestic audiences, of the legitimacy of compliance in politically fraught disputes.