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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Justice Breyer on the Role of International Law

Yesterday evening, AFJ staff attended a lecture given by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Justice Breyer focused his remarks on the increased role of international law in the Court’s decisions. There are currently over 1,000 organizations, such as the IMF, that make law that is binding on more than one country. As a result, there has been a sharp spike in the number of cases before the Court that require the Justices to settle the role of international laws and treaties.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that the issue of international law and its usage in American courts came up last year during the Senate consideration of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Breyer explained his frustration with those who complain about the Supreme Court potentially looking at other countries when they are resolving cases involving U.S. law. He noted, “I say that's a wonderful political debate. It’s good, but it’s pretty irrelevant because when I do read things, I can read what I want.” While recognizing that the U.S. Constitution is a unique document, he explained that if something has been written “by a man or a woman who has a job like mine in another country, and who is interpreting a document somewhat like mine and who in fact has a problem in front of the Court somewhat like mine, why can’t I read it, see what they’ve done? I might learn something.” In a logical manner, he talked about transparency, stating, “I do read it, and if I read it, why don’t I just refer to that fact? I know it isn’t binding, so what's the problem?” Justice Breyer also spoke favorably about international visits by judges, and learning from other’s experiences in our increasingly interconnected globe.

Video footage of Justice Breyer’s entertaining and informative remarks should soon be available at http://www.sais-jhu.edu/pressroom/press-releases/MA2010/breyerpr.htm. Learn more about the role of the courts and why judges matter: http://www.afj.org/connect-with-the-issues/independent-courts-fair-judges.html.