Dissertation Research

Working Papers

Barricading the Court: The Impact of Institutional Rules on High Court Appointments in Latin America.

The wave of constitutional reforms in Latin American during the 1990s and 2000s has spawned a diversity of institutional rules for depoliticizing the judicial nomination process and limiting the influence of any one political branch. However, are these institutional rules merely ”parchment barriers” that fail to prevent strong presidents from dominating judicial appointments to high courts?


Natural Resources and Social Conflict: Explaining Anti-Mining Protests in Brazil 

(with Johannes Urpelainen).
How much does mining contribute to social conflict? To what extent do local communities oppose mining projects, and when? We exploit cross-sectional variation in mineral deposits, temporal variation in global commodity prices, and detailed data on protests across 5,565 Brazilian municipalities to shed light on the conditions under which local communities mobilize against environmentally destructive mining protests.


Playing Politics with Environmental Protection: the Political Economy of Designating Protected Areas

(with Johannes Urpelainen and Jorge Mangonnet)

Protected areas play an important role in biodiversity conservation, but they also carry local costs in the form of constraints on natural resource extraction. Examining the designation of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon, we conduct a geographic regression discontinuity analysis. We find that the Brazilian government systematically over-designates protected areas in municipalities controlled by opposition mayors relative to municipalities controlled by co-partisan mayors.


Greasing the Wheels: The Politics of Environmental Clearances in India 

(with Johannes Urpelainen and Erin York)

We use data on environmental clearances in India for thermal (primarily coal-fired) power plants between the years 2004-2014 to examine how two factors—political alignment and criminal politicians—shape applications for and the approval of environmental clearances. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that partisan alignment with the state chief minister results in a sharp increase in clearance applications, consistent with the hypothesis that political alignment “greases the wheels” of bureaucracy.


Experiments, Courts, and the Legal Process: The Legal Implications of Running Randomized Experiments in the Courtroom

(with Dane Thorley)

Field experiments are a powerful tool for identifying causal relationships, but field experiments can be problematic because they require the researcher to actively intervene in the subjects' lives. Because of these interventions, researchers and organizations running experiments must address a number of ethical concerns before and during their study. In this article, we explore the legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of court-based field experiments.

Current Projects

Community Monitoring and Technology Transfer to Prevent Deforestation: A Field Experiment in the Peruvian Amazon. (partnering with Rainforest Foundation US and funded through the EGAP Metaketa III Initiative) (with Johannes Urpelainen and Tara Slough; IRB Protocol AAAR2625)

To what extent does providing information to forest communities allow them to respond to threats of deforestation on community lands and better manage collective forest resources? We have designed a field experiment in the Peruvian Amazon that will provide indigenous communities with training, technology, and eventually weekly updated data detected by satellite monitoring on threats to collectively-held forests.


Parole Preparation Evaluation Project: A Field Experiment on Quasi-Legal Aid for Parole Hearings. (with Dane ThorleyIRB Protocol AAAQ6353) 

This project, which is a collaboration the National Lawyers Guild, will provide evidence on the efficacy of quasi-legal assistance in administrative hearings, and seek to understand the impact of legal proceedings on perceptions of legitimacy. Specifically, we examine whether receiving assistance affects an incarcerated person's beliefs about the fairness of the parole hearing procedures and the criminal justice system. 


International Rights Mobilization: Measuring the Effect of International Law on Indigenous Protest in Peru. (with Johannes Urpelainen)

This project studies whether international human rights law can incentivize political mobilization. Current theory suggests that effective enforcement of human rights requires international law to serve as a coordination mechanism for political mobilization in favor of a particular right. This study will test that theory by examining indigenous mobilization around mining projects in Peru from 2004-2015, a period in which international protections for indigenous rights to consultation was steadily growing in the Inter-American System of Human Rights, a strong regional enforcement mechanism. 

Other Publications

  • Cushing, L. and Kopas, J. (2011) A Human Crisis: Climate Change and Human Rights in Latin America. AIDA. Bogota. [Report]

  • Kopas, J. and Puentes, R. (2010) Grandes represas en América: ¿Peor el remedio que la enfermedad? AIDA. Bogota. [Report]

  • Cavallaro, J., Kopas, J., Lam, Y., Maylhe, T., and Villagra, S. (2008) Security in Paraguay: Analysis and Responses in Comparative Perspectives. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. [Book]