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History Right?: Historical Scholarship, Original Understanding, and Treaties as "Supreme Law of the Land"

Martin S. Flaherty
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 99, No. 8 (Dec., 1999), pp. 2095-2153
DOI: 10.2307/1123608
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123608
Page Count: 59
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History Right?: Historical Scholarship, Original Understanding, and Treaties as
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Abstract

Historians have long assumed that the Founders intended treaties to be self-executing, having domestic effect without implementing legislation. In this Response to Professor Yoo's challenge to the prevailing view, Professor Flaherty argues that careful examination of the self-execution assumption only confirms it. Relying on both British practice and the Articles of Confederation's failure to ensure swift compliance with treaty obligations, the Framers crafted a Constitution that made treaties self-executing upon ratification. The text of the Supremacy Clause, which makes treaties "the supreme Law of the Land," makes it clear that this was the dominant view, as do the votes and debates at the Constitutional Convention. In the ratification debates, a handful of Anti-Federalists attempted to limit the plain language of the Supremacy Clause. However, the overwhelming ratification evidence confirms the understanding clearly expressed by the Convention. While revisionism at times properly upsets common understandings, sometimes prevailing assumptions deserve to prevail.

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