The Most Cited US Cases Related to International Law

by David Zaring

It’s occasionally interesting to run cite counts for the leading cases in their fields. Doing so can tell you where the action is – or at least, the action in federal courts. I don’t teach or write in traditional foreign relations or public international law, however, so the cases I examined may not be a very complete set. Moreoever, international law cases aren’t common in general (which makes for a small sample), and the cases that do apply international legal principles may be cited for reasons related to other holdings they make or domestic issues that they raise. So take all this with a grain of salt. Add any cases I missed in the comments, and we’ll turn this post into a wiki.

Nonetheless, note that the most cited case US case related to international law that I found comes from the Second Circuit – U.S. v. Alcoa (extraterritorial jurisdiction) has been cited 714 times. BNC v. Sabbatino, the act of state doctrine case, came next with 501 references. Two comity cases, Hilton v. Guyot and Hartford Fire v. CA surprisingly came next, with 463 and 384, respectively. Curtiss-Wright v. US’s plumping for executive power in foreign affairs has been cited 360 times. Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess (foreign sovereign immunity) has 351 citations, Dames & Moore v. Reagan (treaty power) has 215, American Banana v. United Fruit (jurisdiction) has 213. And some also rans:
The Paquette Habana (customary international law) 188
Missouri v. Holland (treaties and federalism) 177
Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (alien tort statute) 176
Murray v. The Charming Betsy (IL statutory intepretation) 112

Takeaways? I’ll leave those to the reader, other than to note that jurisdiction is always a likely bet for citations … but comity is much less obviously so. Cases that expanded the reach of international law in US courts – other than jurisdictionally – are cited comparatively rarely.

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