Analysis and Commentary on International Law

The Supreme Court Ducks a Treaty Power Question but Raises Broader Questions

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bond v. United States, handed down earlier this week. In that case, the Court considered whether the federal Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act applies to a Pennsylvania woman’s attempted use of mild toxins to cause a skin rash on a romantic rival. Dorf argues that the Court’s ruling sidesteps an important question about the scope of congressional power to implement treaties but that it also announces a presumption of statutory construction that could have far-reaching implications.

The Death Penalty in the United States and the Force of Regional Human Rights Law

Justia guest columnist and U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor Saira Mohamed discusses how the recent botched execution in Oklahoma signals the impact regional human rights laws can have beyond borders. Mohamed explains how the development of various European laws and corporate policies have contributed to changes in lethal injection practices in the United States. She notes that European opposition to capital punishment led to the adoption of a European Union regulation restricting trade in drugs that could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. Mohamed concludes that despite the common perception that human rights laws are toothless, limited laws such as those in Europe demonstrate the capacity of human rights law to have wide application, shape state practices, and impact human lives.

Should Mt. Gox Be Bailed Out? What Should Regulators Do in Light of a Major Bitcoin Heist?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recent headlines that caused a panic in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world: The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, was reporting a loss of nearly 750,000 Bitcoins currency units. (Prominent Bitcoin blogger Ryan Selkis made a post to his blog in which he described an unverified report of the loss.) This figure would be worth above $400 million at current prices. As of now, Mt. Gox, which is incorporated in Japan, has filed for insolvency protection there. Ramasastry comments on key events, and possible future reforms that could be put in place so that this situation does not recur.

Bitcoin: If You Can’t Ban It, Should You Regulate It? The Merits of Legalization

Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the question whether Bitcoin—a so-called virtual peer-to-peer currency—should be regulated by the U.S. and/or States within it. (Along with the Treasury Department, California and New York are also contemplating possible legal or regulatory measures regarding Bitcoin.) Ramasastry looks at recent attempts to extend legal recognition to Bitcoin, and explains why she believes this is a good thing. She adds that while it may be good to clarify that legitimate businesses and consumers may use Bitcoin, it may be too early now to determine what, if any, further measures are needed to provide consumers with needed safety with respect to their Bitcoins.

The Supreme Court’s Responsibility for Recent Death Penalty Mishaps

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf argues that what the late Justice Harry Blackmun famously called “the machinery of death” still remains deeply flawed. Dorf illustrates his point through two recent, controversial executions that illustrate how the practice of capital punishment continues to defy attempts to civilize it, and suggests that the responsibility is to be placed at the Court's door.

Traversing Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road

Justia guest columnist and attorney Anita Felicelli reviews Anupam Chander’s book The Electronic Silk Road. Felicelli praises the book as a lucid, thoughtful, and dispassionate survey of Trade 2.0 and cyberspace law. Although she offers mild critique that the book’s coverage of implementation may not satisfy skeptics of its premises, she concludes that the book impressively provides much-needed commentary on a subject that is complex and difficult.

Should the United Nations Be Liable for the Haiti Cholera Epidemic?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a recent federal lawsuit filed against the United Nations for allegedly causing a cholera epidemic in Haiti. Kemp discusses factors weighing for and against finding the U.N. liable for the epidemic in light of recent evidence all but establishing that U.N. peacekeepers introduced the deadly disease to the struggling country. Kemp notes that as a policy matter, the threat of lawsuits should not serve to discourage international humanitarian aid, but nor should aid organizations be immune from liability for gross misconduct. Ultimately, Kemp concludes that the optimal outcome would be a declaratory judgment against the U.N. but without an award of monetary damages.

Germany’s Election Results Are Bad News for the U.S.

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan expresses very strong disagreement with the economic policies of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently claimed electoral victory. Buchanan contends that Merkel’s policies are bad for Europe, the United States, and the world, and carefully details the reasons behind his conclusions. Though Merkel is little known by Americans, as Buchanan notes, she will surely exert influence on the U.S., so, Buchanan warns, Americans ought to take more notice of her policies and influence.

What Does Opposition to War in Syria Tell Us About the State of International Law?

Justia guest columnist and U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor Saira Mohamed critically discusses the possibility of military force by the United States against Syria. She first describes how unilateral military intervention would violate international law and explains why the United States should avoid it. She then draws alarming parallels to punitive actions taken by the U.S. against Libya in 1986, Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, and Iraq in 2003. Professor Mohamed concludes with the optimistic perspective that the American public supports the principle that military force should not substitute for diplomacy, and that war is not a legitimate tool of international relations.

Could the President Bomb Syria Even If Congress Says No?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on President Obama’s options in Syria. Dorf notes that Secretary of State John Kerry’s position is that the President can act without Congress. But Dorf calls that position profoundly misguided, citing international law and the U.N. Charter on the use of force. Dorf also points out that Congressional approval cannot substitute for Security Council authorization. Moreover, he comments on prior presidents who faced situations in which there was a lack of Congressional authorization for the use of force.

The Obama Administration Has Temporarily Cut Military Aid to Egypt, But Still Won’t Call the Coup a Coup: Why Modern Presidents Evade the Law

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the situation in Egypt, arguing that President Obama’s dubious legal position with respect to Egyptian aid fits a recent pattern of American presidents acting as though they are not constrained by law when it comes to American foreign policy. To support his thesis, Dorf cites choices made by Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Protesters or Pirates?

Justia guest columnist and attorney Courtney Minick discusses a decision in which a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s denial of an injunction sought by Japanese whalers against the direct-action advocacy organization Sea Shepherd Society. Minick discusses the district court’s reasoning and decision denying the injunction, which focus on determining what constitutes a pirate. She then describes the Ninth Circuit’s decision reversing the lower court, calling into question the Ninth Circuit’s procedural decision to reassign the case to a different judge on remand. She concludes that while the definition of piracy may be evolving, different countries may yet come to different outcomes in deciding what constitutes a pirate for the purpose of enforcing domestic laws and international treaties.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Crusade to Block Internet Porn: Why His Plan Is Messier Than He Thinks

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the controversy in the U.K. regarding Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans for government Internet filtering. She notes that while almost everyone agrees that children’s Internet access should be regulated, the Cameron Plan for such regulation has numerous flaws—including an overbreadth that would unfairly censor worthwhile and even educational material from which teenagers would benefit. Ramasastry notes that British teens may well find a way to avoid the filters, or change them by secretly getting their parents’ IDs. She also contrasts the U.K. proposal on filtering, with the First Amendment-informed U.S. approach to the same issues when they have arisen here vis-à-vis libraries and schools.

Serving Foreign Defendants via Facebook: Is A New York-Based Federal District Court’s Decision a Sign of the Times?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a judge’s recent ruling that permitted the Federal Trade Commission to issue service of process on foreign defendants via email and Facebook. Kemp summarizes the facts of the case and the judge’s reasoning and provides a brief overview of the requirements of service of process. He argues that the ruling, while ostensibly narrow, may have broader implications for the use of Facebook in serving foreign defendants.

Is Obama’s Policy of Targeted Killings Really Worse than Bush’s Torture Policy?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contrasts Obama’s policy of targeted killings of persons believed to be leaders of al Q’aeda, with George W. Bush’s prior policy of authorization of the use of torture. The issue is timely in the wake of the release of an Obama Administration white paper on the targeted-killing issue. Dorf notes that the Administration is drawing criticism from both the right and the left on that issue. Dorf argues that the Administration is right to seek to craft a policy that complies with both the U.S. Constitution and the international law of war. He also examines the views of controversial conservative law professor John Yoo on which is worse: the Obama Administration’s targeted killing policy, or the Bush Administration’s torture policy. Dorf also looks at such questions from the point of view of not just law, but also morality.

Labor of Love: Sex, Jobs, and Workers' Compensation

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professsor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on a case that raised the issue whether workers' compensation covered an injury that was incurred during sex on a business trip, with the injury at issue involving a broken and dangerous light fixture. Grossman and Friedman explain why, though the Australian woman who suffered the light-fixture injury prevailed on her workers' compensation claim, and most American claimants injured during sex on a business trip likely would, too, other would-be claimants with sex-on-a-business-trip injuries have been left without any remedy from workers’ compensation.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more