Globalization and Distrust

45 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2005 Last revised: 9 Jul 2014

See all articles by Anupam Chander

Anupam Chander

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: November 14, 2011


There was a time when the critics of international law denounced it for its irrelevance, its masquerade of power. Now in the post-ontological era of international law, the critique has shifted. Today, international law is denounced not for its weakness, but for its vigor, specifically its transfer of authority from local to international tribunals. Critics find a democratic deficit in almost all international institutions - from the World Trade Organization, to the International Criminal Court, to even the World Health Organization. Critics also denounce U.S. courts for serving as vassals of international law through the jurisdictional grant of the Alien Tort Statute. Three decades ago, the Warren Court's constitutional pronouncements overruling the judgments of the American people were similarly decried as judicial usurpation. John Hart Ely's magisterial intervention in his legal process classic, Democracy and Distrust, rescued the judiciary from illegitimacy.

Today's democratic deficit is yesterday's countermajoritarian difficulty. This Article tests the transnational legal process against Ely's vision of democracy. Three case studies make the inquiry concrete: (1) Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the Supreme Court's recent decision regarding the application of international law in U.S. courts; (2) the online gambling claim brought by Antigua against the United States in the World Trade Organization; and (3) the International Monetary Fund's intervention in Indonesia at the height of the Asian Financial Crisis. Through these studies, I demonstrate that the transnational legal process operates through (and is consistent with) national democratic processes, permitting review, revision, and rejection through such processes. Furthermore, the part of international law that purports to be super-constitutional - jus cogens - can be seen as representation reinforcement - supplying minority protections in a world that has come sadly to see the need for them.

Keywords: international law, democracy, John Hart Ely, legal process, transnational legal process, democratic deficit, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, GATS, globalization

Suggested Citation

Chander, Anupam, Globalization and Distrust (November 14, 2011). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 114, p. 1193, 2005, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 31, Available at SSRN:

Anupam Chander (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

Washington, DC


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