01 May Florida Narrows Foreign Law Ban to Foreign Family Law
Florida’s legislature has just passed a bill that is an interesting variation on the wave of other foreign law bans that have been enacted in U.S. states. Florida’s new law would ban the use of foreign law in Florida state courts if that law “contravenes the strong public policy” of Florida or if the “law is unjust or unreasonable.” It also limits the use of foreign law in choice of law provisions in contracts or forum selection clauses under the same “strong public policy” standard.
In fact, Florida’s law is much narrower than it appears. Apparently drafted with the help of the International Law Section of Florida’s Bar, the law only applies to matters “arising out of or relating to Chapters 61 and 88” of Florida’s statutory laws. And these turn out to be related to marriage, divorce, child custody, and child support. So we are really down to prenuptial agreements and child custody agreements, for the most part.
Critics of these bills have called them pointless and possibly xenophobic as well. I am more on the “pointless” end of the spectrum, since I agree these laws do very little, although this bill is at least narrowly targeted at what the supporters of the bill are actually worried about: US courts enforcing agreements or requirements in family law matters based on foreign legal principles, especially Islamic law. This same issue is actually causing a minor uproar in the UK. Maybe they need a Florida bill there too?
In any event, I think this bill is pretty harmless, and it is actually narrowly targeted at what the supporters are worried about: “sharia law” in US courts. It is certainly better than the previous version, which would have swept far more broadly. And I don’t think there should be any constitutional problems with this provision.