[David Moore is Professor of Law at BYU Law]
Curtis Bradley’s “International Law in the U.S. Legal System” is a welcome and significant contribution to U.S. Foreign Relations Law. Like Louis Henkin’s “Foreign Affairs and the United States Constitution,” it will be a resource that scholars will want to consult and cite as well as recommend to their students and have on reserve.
The portion of the book on treaties addresses a wide-range of topics from treaty creation to non-self-execution to termination. In addition to providing a clear overview of these topics and the sometimes unsettled questions they present, the discussion reveals an unspoken theme only partially captured by the book’s title. Given its focus, the book is appropriately titled “International Law in the U.S. Legal System,” but the treatment of international law in U.S. law reveals that the interaction between U.S. and international law is not unidirectional. International law affects U.S. law, even U.S. constitutional law, but U.S. law also affects international law.
On the incoming side of the relationship, international law produces a range of effects on the domestic legal order. Most passively, international law presents questions that domestic law must answer. For example, Bradley notes that the international law of treaties recognizes that state parties may terminate their agreements under certain circumstances, such as material breach of a bilateral agreement. The international law option to terminate raises the question of who within the domestic order can exercise that option. Moreover, international law might go further and influence the answer to that question as the nature of international law may functionally favor a particular actor as the one best suited to exercise the termination power. This sort of effect has arguably occurred in the context of determining the subject matter scope of the treaty power. Bradley notes repeated historical suggestions that treaty-making might extend only to certain types of treaties or at least to matters of international concern. International law, however, defines “treaty” very broadly by reference to the nature of the contracting parties and the obligations assumed, largely without reference to subject matter restraints. Consistent with this approach, treaty-making has spanned a vast range of issues. The breadth of international treaty-making is almost certainly a contributing factor to the current sense that the Constitution does not impose subject matter limitations on the treaty power. With the Supreme Court positioned to address subject matter limitations on the treaty-making power next term in Bond v. United States, the link between international law and domestic definition of the treaty power may be broken. At this point, however, the connection is apparent. (more…)