Customary International Law and U.S. Judicial Power: From the Third to the Fourth Restatements

Customary International Law and U.S. Judicial Power: From the Third to the Fourth Restatements, in Paul B. Stephan and Sarah H. Cleveland, eds., THE FOURTH RESTATEMENT AND BEYOND: THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF U.S. FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020 Forthcoming)

Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3629791

13 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2020 Last revised: 24 Jun 2020

See all articles by Thomas H. Lee

Thomas H. Lee

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: June 17, 2020

Abstract

This chapter describes specific points of divergence between the Third and Fourth Restatements of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States regarding how U.S. courts should engage with customary international law. The Third Restatement, adopted in 1987, envisioned U.S. courts fluent in and engaged with international law, deploying a U.S. foreign relations jurisprudence in dialogue with international law and lawyers. Customary international law was a central feature of this vision because it was the prime pathway for human rights litigation in federal courts when U.S. treaty-based human-rights initiatives had stalled. Appearing thirty years later, the Fourth Restatement exhibits a fundamentally different orientation toward customary international law. Customary international law is no longer embraced as it was in the Third Restatement as an opportunity to play offense, to advance the international law of human rights. That vision inspired a reaction among some U.S. legal scholars who questioned the U.S. federal law status of customary international law and the legitimacy of U.S. judges advancing the customary international law of human rights. The Fourth Restatement seeks a middle ground by defending against this revision of customary international law’s status role in the United States, concerned that the revisionist view might encourage and provide cover for U.S. courts to dismiss cases and claims with foreign policy ramifications that they should be adjudicating. The approaches of the two Restatements, taken together, have contributed to the disengagement of U.S. judges from customary international law altogether, to the detriment of U.S. conduct of foreign policy and contrary to the original constitutional specification of the judicial power of the United States as reflected in Article III, the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the federal courts, and early historical practice.

Keywords: Restatements, foreign relations law, U.S. courts, customary international law, human rights, foreign sovereign interests, foreign policy, U.S. judicial power, foreign relations jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Lee, Thomas H., Customary International Law and U.S. Judicial Power: From the Third to the Fourth Restatements (June 17, 2020). Customary International Law and U.S. Judicial Power: From the Third to the Fourth Restatements, in Paul B. Stephan and Sarah H. Cleveland, eds., THE FOURTH RESTATEMENT AND BEYOND: THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF U.S. FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020 Forthcoming), Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3629791, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3629791 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3629791

Thomas H. Lee (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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