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When Customary International Law Violations ‘Arise Under the Laws of the United States’


Gwynne Skinner


Willamette University - College of Law

July 2, 2010

Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2010

Abstract:     
For years, scholars have been vigorously debating the precise role of customary international law within our federal legal system, including whether such is federal common law and whether claims for violation of customary international law arise under the “Laws of the United States” for purposes of both Article III and general federal questions jurisdiction, found at 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This question also remains unresolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, it is a question that is timely, given the increasing number of non-citizens and citizens alike that bring claims for violations of customary international law in U.S. court.

In this Article, I conclude that common law claims for violations of customary international law arise under the “laws of the United States” for general federal question jurisdiction and within Article III, but only where such claims or defenses to them implicate uniquely federal interests, such as foreign relations. I do not take this position because the law of nations itself is, or historically was, part of the “laws of the United States” for Article III and 1331 purposes; in fact, the law of nations probably was not considered to be the “law of the United States” per se when each was enacted. Rather, I take this position for two other reasons. First, certain enclaves of federal common law have developed over time to include certain norms and rules of customary international law – i.e., those that affect uniquely federal interests such as foreign relations – and federal courts have the judicial authority to continue to develop such law when uniquely national interests are at stake. Second, federal common law has evolved to become “law of the United States” for purposes of both Article III and 28 U.S.C. §1331.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

Keywords: customary international law, laws of the United States, Article III, federal common law

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Date posted: July 5, 2010 ; Last revised: July 29, 2012

Suggested Citation

Skinner, Gwynne, When Customary International Law Violations ‘Arise Under the Laws of the United States’ (July 2, 2010). Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1634134

Contact Information

Gwynne Skinner (Contact Author)
Willamette University - College of Law ( email )
245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States
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