Analysis and Commentary on International Law

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.

The European Court of Human Rights Upholds German Ban on PETA’s “Holocaust On Your Plate” Campaign: Lessons For Animal Activists and for Animal Product Consumers

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a controversy in Germany in which Germany’s branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA-D, compared animal exploitation and slaughter to the Nazi Holocaust, in a series of seven graphic posters. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) subsequently held that Germany’s censorship of the images was lawful. Colb, who is both an ethical vegan and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, critically analyzes (1) PETA-D’s decision to launch a campaign comparing animal slaughter to the Holocaust; (2) the ECHR’s decision that such a comparison diminishes Holocaust victims and survivors; and (3) the specific nature of the offense that is felt by those who condemn the analogy between animal exploitation and the Holocaust. In her analysis, Colb refers to sources ranging from Adorno, Singer, and Coetzee on animal suffering, to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” a comparison to which most people don’t object, but perhaps logically should.

The Global Child Sex Abuse Scandals in Institutions Continue, With Australia Now Joining the Countries That Are Investigating: What Congress and the President Should Do Here in the U.S.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses the child-sex-abuse investigation in Australia and developments regarding child sex abuse here in the U.S. Hamilton argues that America’s response to evidence of child sex abuse in our institutions has been woefully deficient. While some local or state prosecutors have moved forward, Hamilton argues that what is needed, as well, is a response at the federal level. Hamilton suggests that Members of Congress are afraid to take on the relevant institutions, despite the terrible toll that child sex abuse takes on children and the monetary costs that are associated with that toll. Hamilton argues, however, that addressing child sex abuse is not only the right thing to do, but also ultimately in Members of Congress’ political interests. In particular, she urges Republicans to change their focus from “unborn children” to actual children who are suffering due to child sex abuse. Hamilton also urges Democrats in Congress and President Obama to investigate and act on this important issue, including by reforming the insurance industry's role.

Another Fine Mess: An Assessment of the Most Recent Supreme Court Oral Argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

Justia guest columnist and Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron comments on the recent Supreme Court argument in an important case centering on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). As Citron explains, the ATS, enacted by the first Congress in 1789, authorizes federal courts to hear “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the laws of nations or a treaty of the United States.” But can the ATS be applied to conduct based outside the U.S.? As Citron explains, that is the issue that the conservative Justices brought up at oral argument. Citron predicts, however, that in the end the Court will not limit the ATS’s reach to conduct that occurs within the United States, but that the Court will affirm the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case.

The Right to Be Untagged: As Facebook Disables Facial Recognition for EU Consumers, U.S. Consumers Are Left Wondering What’s Next for Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on regulatory responses in the EU and the U.S. regarding Facebook’s facial-recognition tool, which suggests the identities of registered Facebook users for possible tagging by other users in uploaded photos. As Ramasastry explains, the tool has sparked concern by EU regulators due to privacy worries, and even in the U.S., Facebook has voluntarily—but perhaps temporarily—suspended the tool. Ramasastry notes some reasons why Facebook users may have concerns about the tool, including its accompanying archive of tagged photos, which could in theory be used for law-enforcement, intelligence, or other purposes that users never authorized. In the EU, Facebook has agreed to soon stop using the tool, and to delete related data. But what will happen with the tool and the resulting database, here in the U.S.? With complaints from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a leading NGO, and a complaint filed with the FTC, the facial- recognition tool is now in hot water in the U.S. as well as the EU.

A German Court Bans Circumcision

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a German court’s recent ruling banning circumcision under the criminal law. Colb notes that the ruling has caused a great deal of controversy, both domestically and internationally, because child circumcision is central to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and because of Germany’s history of bias and of genocide. The court claimed, however, that it was acting to preserve the child’s bodily integrity, and his ability to choose his own religion later in life. Colb covers the facts, the outraged reaction, and the arguments that might be made to the effect that the court was possibly acting out of sympathy for the child, rather than out of bias. She also compares and contrasts religious circumcision with procedures ranging from infant ear piercing, to female genital mutilation, to infant circumcision that is not performed for religious reasons. In addition, Colb raises a disturbing specter of bias based on the reported availability, in Germany, of circumcision based on medical, but not religious, reasons. Especially since child circumcision has medical benefits, she says, governments should continue to allow it regardless of whether it is motivated by religious or secular intent, or both.

Journalists, Protesters, and Other Terrorist Threats

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner draws on a recent Human Rights Watch report that she co-authored, regarding the host of post-9/11 counterterrorism laws that have been passed, to question whether these laws cast too wide a net.  As Mariner explains, the report reveals that, in fact, many of the laws have proved overbroad, and that very overbreadth has meant that they have swept in journalists, social protesters, opposition figures, and other disfavored groups who have had nothing to do with terrorism.  Mariner provides specific examples to prove her thesis, citing instances of the misuse of counterterrorism laws to detain protesters in Bahrain, and to detain journalists in Ethiopia.  She also focuses on troublingly unspecific UN Security Council resolutions regarding counterterrorism, that may well open the door to abuse.

How Rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt Hold Lessons for Emerging Democracies, and for Our Own

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on what emerging democracies, and even America’s own long-established democracy, can learn from two recent rulings from the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt. As Dorf explains, the rulings, and the political context in which they arose, can teach us much about courts’ role in promoting democracy. He notes that the world has decisively opted for constitutional review, and the protection of individual rights, which are now a standard feature of established democracies around the globe. Dorf notes, however, that constitutional courts in emerging democracies not only must worry about the tyranny of the majority and the protection of individual rights, but must also be concerned that the government will fall prey to a military coup. In addition to commenting on Egypt’s situation, Dorf also cites Pakistan as another instructive example of the role of courts.

Can Buying a Plane Ticket Also Buy You Love? The New World of Travel Dating and Its Possible Personal and Legal Risks

Justia columnist Anita Ramasastry comments on the legal issues that may arise from MissTravel.com, a website that says that it matches “generous travelers who hate to travel alone with attractive travelers who would love the opportunity to travel the world for free.” The site has been compared to an online escort service, although the site itself argues that the analogy is unfair. Ramasastry considers the legal issues that may arise from the Miss Travel site—focusing both on (1) whether the site could get in trouble if illegal activity ensues, and (2) whether there is any recourse if the companion of the “generous traveler” gets into hot water when the two are overseas. Ramasastry also notes that state Attorneys General have gone after online escort ads’ host sites, but that such sites are generally immune from civil liability for user postings under the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Still, Ramasastry notes, under certain circumstances such sites might be hit with criminal charges if they knowingly induce prostitution. She notes, however, that Miss Travel is importantly different from such sites.

The Hybrid Rules of Drone Warfare

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner discusses the controversial subject of drone warfare, and the question of what rules should apply to it. She covers Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech on the issue, given earlier this month, which focused upon the use of lethal force against U.S. citizens. Mariner notes that this speech—building on earlier analyses by State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson—is the most thorough Obama Administration analysis of these issues to date. Mariner also contrasts the U.S. and Israeli frameworks for targeted killings—noting that the U.S. seems to be borrowing, lately, from the Israeli model. In particular, she compares the rules outlined in the Holder speech with the rules outlined in an Israeli Supreme Court opinion on similar topics. Finally, Mariner makes some predictions about the kind of approach we may see in the future in this area of law, which may combine elements of both military and civilian justice.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

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

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

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

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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