Degrees of Deference: Applying vs. Adopting Another Sovereign's Law

67 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2016 Last revised: 24 Feb 2017

Date Written: November 28, 2016


Familiar to all Federal Courts enthusiasts is the Erie distinction between federal actors’ obligatory application of state law and their voluntary adoption of state law as federal law. This Article’s thesis is that this significant distinction holds in all other situations where a sovereign employs another’s law: not only in the analogous reverse-Erie resolution of federal law’s constraint on state actors, but also in horizontal choice-of-law setting and even in connection with the status of international law. Application and adoption are different avenues by which to approach a pluralist world. Application involves the recognition of the other sovereign’s law properly governing by its own force, while adoption follows from voluntary consultation of the other’s law while formulating the local rule of decision in pursuit of fairness, convenience, or other local policies. The applying/adopting distinction can be difficult to draw, but draw it we must because many binary practical consequences turn on it. Those consequences range beyond the federalist implications for federal and state courts to the modifiability of the sovereign’s law and the availability of original and appellate jurisdiction in the local courts.

Keywords: Federal Courts, Choice of Law, International Law, Civil Procedure

JEL Classification: K40, K33

Suggested Citation

Clermont, Kevin M., Degrees of Deference: Applying vs. Adopting Another Sovereign's Law (November 28, 2016). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-47, Available at SSRN: or

Kevin M. Clermont (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-5189 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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