Legislative Jurisdiction, Judicial Canons, and International Law

107 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2009 Last revised: 19 Oct 2009

See all articles by John H. Knox

John H. Knox

Wake Forest University - School of Law


Congress often enacts statutes whose terms have no geographic limit. In deciding how far those statutes reach, the Supreme Court employs judicial canons, the best-known of which is the presumption against extraterritoriality, which states that "legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States." Despite the apparent simplicity of this language, the Court has failed to employ it consistently and predictably. This article proposes a new approach: to resolve questions of legislative jurisdiction, the Court should reinvigorate an older judicial canon, the presumption that U.S. laws do not extend beyond the limits on legislative jurisdiction imposed by international law. Under the proposal, courts would look to the bases of legislative jurisdiction under international law to determine whether to employ a presumption against the application of a statute.

Keywords: legislative jurisdiction, jurisdiction to prescribe, presumption against extraterritoriality

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Knox, John H., Legislative Jurisdiction, Judicial Canons, and International Law. Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1349127. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1349127

John H. Knox (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

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