Several chapter members went to the Federalist Society Student Symposium at Columbia University this weekend. I highly recommend that everyone attend next year. The speakers and discussion were thoughtful and engaging....if only school were like this all the time!
Over the course of the week, it struck me that the panelists who favored extensive application of international law focused exclusively on the most formal aspects of the law: treaties, accords, etc. They argued that the US has an obligation to adhere to these agreements because we believe in the rule of law. You sign a contract, you honor it. That's a great argument to make to Federalists.
But rule of law depends on law being knowable, procedural, and definite. No wonder that the internationalists talk only of treaties and accords. In the case of agreements negotiated by our elected officials, I am very persuaded by their claims that strict adherence is both a legal obligation and good policy. We follow legitimate law partially because it's the right thing to do, regardless of whether anyone will enforce it against us; we also do it because honoring our agreements bolsters our reputation in the long run. The same arguments apply to nations as well as individuals--but only with respect to defined obligations voluntarily undertaken.
Their argument doesn't hold for custom, the court of opinion, the law of nations, or haphazard judicial consideration of foreign law in interpreting our Constitution. The part of international law that stirs controversy isn't usually treaties. I think what we're usually arguing about is the piecemeal importation of ill-defined customary law that we don't get a chance to vote on. It's the customary fluff that lacks institutions to legitimately create or enforce it. By applying that part of international law here, we undermine the procedural safeguards that allow us to protect ourselves. Americans haven't had clear input into it. We don't trust it or respect it, and we have no reason to do so.
So although the rule-of-law argument is alluring, I think the argument only goes so far. It just doesn't extend to the gritty issues.
It was a great conference. I hope you all attend next year.