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Citizens Not Subjects: U.S. Foreign Relations Law and the Decentralization of Foreign Policy

Nick Robinson

Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession; Center for Policy Research (India)

May 14, 2007

Akron Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 647, 2007

Localities have increasingly become actors in foreign affairs as their interests become more international and many formerly domestic issues have gained foreign relations implications. However, U.S. foreign relations law still finds localities role in international affairs highly suspect and strongly biases federalizing matters that pertain to international relations. As local governance becomes more internationally saturated, this jurisprudence threatens to both undercut local democracy and weaken U.S. foreign policy.

Part I of this article details how U.S. foreign relations law undermines localities ability to be foreign policy actors. Part II plots how international trade and human rights law further circumscribe localities role in foreign relations. Part III applies traditional pro-federalism arguments to defend a partial decentralization of foreign relations in which localities and the federal government are concurrent actors in foreign affairs. It argues that courts should abandon doctrines of heightened preemption in foreign relations and instead let the executive and legislature specifically preempt a locality’s policy if it interferes with U.S. foreign policy. Part IV applies the more theoretical and jurisprudential analysis in the previous parts to five categories of localities actions that affect foreign relations. Part V finds that other proposals that could promote local participation in foreign relations, like Fishkin and Ackerman’s Deliberation Day, should be encouraged as well, but they do not address larger federalism concerns about strengthening localities role in foreign relations.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 69

Keywords: Foreign Relations Law, Decentralized Foreign Policy, US Constitution, dormant foreign affairs power, dormant commerce clause, political question doctrine

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Date posted: March 31, 2012 ; Last revised: May 7, 2014

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Nick, Citizens Not Subjects: U.S. Foreign Relations Law and the Decentralization of Foreign Policy (May 14, 2007). Akron Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 647, 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2031935

Contact Information

Nick Robinson (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession ( email )
1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Center for Policy Research (India) ( email )
Dharma Marg
New Delhi, 110022
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