International Law in Domestic Courts: A Conflict of Laws Approach
The most up-to-date version of this piece can be found in the Duke Law Scholarship
forthcoming, 103 American Society of International Law Proceedings (2009)
The relationship between international law and domestic law is rarely understood as a conflict of laws. Understanding it in this way opens up a parallel with the field of conflict of laws: the field for which the relationship between legal systems, especially the role of another system's jurisdiction, laws, and judgments vis-à-vis the domestic legal system, are exactly the bread-and-butter issues. We argue for such an approach to international law in domestic courts: an approach that we elaborate as "theory through technique."
In our view, conflicts should be seen broadly as the discipline that developed to deal with conflicts between laws, without necessarily being committed to any one method or policy. Surprisingly, we demonstrate that it is precisely the seemingly negative features of conflicts - the field's high degree of technicality disparaged as a "conflict-of-laws machine" and the multitude of theories famously deemed a "dismal swamp" - that figure among the advantages of a conflict-of-laws approach to international law in domestic courts.
A conflict-of-laws approach offers ways to respect the nature of international law as law, without simplifying that nature by characterizing it exactly as domestic law. In addition, seeing the parallel with conflict of laws brings a wealth of experience that can enrich and refine the debate on international law in domestic courts. Finally, the parallel with conflicts changes international law in domestic courts from a specific problem addressed by international and constitutional lawyers into a general problem of relativism - which, we argue, conflict of laws is uniquely positioned to address.
Date of Authorship for this Version
International law and domestic courts, Conflict of Laws, Private International Law, International Law
Michaels, Ralf; Knop, Karen; and Riles, Annelise, "International Law in Domestic Courts: A Conflict of Laws Approach" (2009). Duke Law School Faculty Scholarship Series. 181.