West Law Report

Sosa, customary international law, and the continuing relevance of Erie

Posted in Harvard Law Review (Article), Sosa v Alvarez Machain by mrkooenglish on June 11, 2008

(1)
An article of Curtis A. Bradley, Jack L. Goldsmith, and David H. Moore in Harvard Law Review (Feb 2007) (68 pages):

This Article analyzes the Supreme Court 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain against the backdrop of the post-Erie federal common law. The Article shows that, contrary to the assertion of some commentators, Sosa did not embrace the odern position?that customary international law (CIL) has the status of self-executing federal common law to be applied by courts without any need for political branch authorization and, indeed, is best read as rejecting that position. Commentators who construe Sosa as embracing the modern position have confounded the automatic incorporation of CIL as domestic federal law in the absence of political branch authorization (that is, the modern position) with the entirely different issue of whether and to what extent a particular statute, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), authorizes courts to apply CIL as domestic federal law.

The Article also explains how CIL continues to be relevant to domestic federal common law despite Sosa rejection of the modern position. The fundamental flaw of the modern position is that it ignores the justifications for, and limitations on, post-Erie federal common law. As the Article shows, however, there are a number of contexts in addition to the ATS in which it is appropriate for courts to develop federal common law by reference to CIL, including certain jurisdictional contexts not amenable to state regulation (namely, admiralty and interstate disputes), as well as gap-filling and interpretation of foreign affairs statutes and treaties. The Article concludes by considering several areas of likely debate during the next decade concerning the domestic status of CIL: corporate aiding and abetting liability under the ATS, application of CIL to the war on terrorism, and the use of foreign and international materials in constitutional interpretation.

(2)
Responding by William S. Dodge Customary International Law and the Question of Legitimacy (9 pages):

In 1997, Professors Curtis Bradley and Jack Goldsmith shook the international law academy by arguing that the Supreme Court decision in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins made it illegitimate for federal courts to continue to apply customary international law (which they called CIL) without further authorization from Congress. The Supreme Court 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain seemed to reject this argument, holding that federal courts could apply customary international law under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) without any authorization beyond the jurisdictional grant. Undaunted, Professors Bradley and Goldsmith (joined now by Professor David Moore) have returned to claim that Sosa in fact supports their argument and that ourts can domesticate CIL only in accordance with the requirements and limitations of post-Erie federal common law.? In my view, their latest article not only misinterprets Sosa but also raises fundamental questions concerning both the legitimacy of customary international law itself and the legitimacy of requiring its express incorporation into the U.S. legal system, a requirement that is contrary to the understanding of the founding generation.

(3)
Responding by Ernest A. YoungSosa and the Retail Incorporation of International Law (8 pages):

Since its release in 2004, Justice Souter majority opinion in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain has become something of a Rorschach blot, in which each of the contending sides in the debate over the domestic status of customary international law (CIL) sees what it was predisposed to see anyway. Neither the thoughtful article by Professors Curtis Bradley, Jack Goldsmith, and David Moore, nor this comment upon that article, is any exception to that tendency: we, too, read Sosa as vindicating our previously expressed positions on this debate. That is an embarrassing situation for scholars all round, and it counsels caution in interpreting what the Court actually did and said in Sosa. But the willingness of all sides to claim victory doesn mean that nobody, in fact, won. I think that CIL revisionists like Professors Bradley, Goldsmith, and Moore (with whom I consider myself at least a fellow traveler) have the better claim on Sosa. In this brief comment, I hope to explain why.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: