Introduces students to debates about the role of institutions, particularly but not exclusively legal institutions, in placing limits on the state and fostering the rule of law. What is law? Why do courts exist and what is their role in the state? What institutions are necessary to establish the rule of law? Why are institutions successful in some contexts and not others? Considers these questions by surveying classic and current research from American and comparative politics literatures on topics such as judicial independence, credible commitments, separation of powers and constitutional design.