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What You Need to Know About International Law

What You Need to Know About International Law

The practice
of international law can impinge on cases taken on and decisions made by the
U.S. Supreme Court both in reference to legal controversies which span
international borders and to the use of other law codes as sources for guidance
and instruction. The relevance of international laws is generally accepted by
professionals in and observers of the American field of law when it is in
regard to the former category, but the practice has caused more controversy in
the latter such cases.

American political and legal arguments contend that the sovereign authority of
the country as a whole is imperiled by a reliance on foreign codes of law for
any kind of authority. Despite this argument, the field of international law
has in the past derived much of use from American Constitutional law, and with
the expansion of comprehensive and functioning legal systems across the world,
it is not unlikely that the Supreme Court will continue to deal with the proper
relationship of international laws to the American judicial system.

Early Supreme Court rulings on the issue of
international law often involved issues and disputes arising between the ships
of different countries engaged in sea commerce. In cases of this kind and
similar legal controversies, the Supreme Court would openly examine
international laws and mention such codes as authorities in its opinion. A
specific instance of international law occurring in the early period of the
Supreme Court is a case involving questions over property included in the
Louisiana Purchase from France and also held at a previous point by Spain.

To this end,
the Justices studied French and Spanish real estate statutes before rendering a
decision for the American litigant. Similar questions arose much later in
reference to inter-North American commerce conducted as part of NAFTA and the
recovery of property lost in Europe during World War II.

A more controversial appearance of international
laws in Supreme Court theory has been the citation of other countries’ law
statutes in regard to the rights of Americans, which in turn have prompted
complaints of American courts compromising American sovereignty. The
international law controversy began toward the end of the 20th Century, when
Justices began looking to legal codes for practices and rules that they
considered more humane and fair than those currently observed in the United
States. Legal and political commentators would sometimes notice this trend, to
their chagrin or endorsement, when they saw the Justices’ own citation of 
foreign and international law in the opinions they rendered.

of the use of international law by the Supreme Court came to new prominence
when Justice Anthony Kennedy cited precedents from general European laws and
English courts in the Lawrence v. Texas case disallowing the legal prohibition
of same-sex intercourse. Kennedy would later cite international law to similar
ends, and to similarly much-noted, often reviled effect, in appealing to the
United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child against the practice of
executing minors.