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Customary International Law as Federal Common Law: A Critique of the Modern Position

Curtis A. Bradley and Jack L. Goldsmith
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 110, No. 4 (Feb., 1997), pp. 815-876
DOI: 10.2307/1342230
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342230
Page Count: 62
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Customary International Law as Federal Common Law: A Critique of the Modern Position
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Abstract

In the last twenty years, a consensus has developed among courts and scholars that customary international law has the status of federal common law. Professors Bradley and Goldsmith label this consensus the "modern position." Courts have endorsed the modern position primarily to support their conclusion that international human rights lawsuits between aliens "arise under" the laws of the United States for purposes of Article III of the Constitution. Scholars have pushed the consequences of the modern position further by arguing that customary international law preempts inconsistent state law under the Supremacy Clause, binds the President under the Take Care Clause, and even supersedes prior inconsistent federal legislation. In this Article, Professors Bradley and Goldsmith challenge the modern position. They question the modern position's historical validity, and they show that its recent rise to orthodoxy has been accompanied by little critical scrutiny. They then question contemporary arguments for the modern position and show how these arguments depart from basic understandings about American representative democracy, federal common law, separation of powers, and federalism. Professors Bradley and Goldsmith conclude that, in the absence of authorization by the federal political branches, customary international law should not have the status of federal law. This conclusion requires less change in judicial practice than might commonly be thought. Nonetheless, the story of the modern position's rise and continued influence presents cautionary lessons for a democratic society increasingly governed by international law.

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