Category: International & Comparative Law


Stanford Law Review Online: Don’t Break the Internet

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a piece by Mark Lemley, David S. Levine, and David G. Post on the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. In Don’t Break the Internet, they argue that the two bills — intended to counter online copyright and trademark infringement — “share an underlying approach and an enforcement philosophy that pose grave constitutional problems and that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the stability and security of the Internet’s addressing system, for the principle of interconnectivity that has helped drive the Internet’s extraordinary growth, and for free expression.”

They write:

These bills, and the enforcement philosophy that underlies them, represent a dramatic retreat from this country’s tradition of leadership in supporting the free exchange of information and ideas on the Internet. At a time when many foreign governments have dramatically stepped up their efforts to censor Internet communications, these bills would incorporate into U.S. law a principle more closely associated with those repressive regimes: a right to insist on the removal of content from the global Internet, regardless of where it may have originated or be located, in service of the exigencies of domestic law.

Read the full article, Don’t Break the Internet by Mark Lemley, David S. Levine, and David G. Post, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

Note: Corrected typo in first paragraph.


Post-Soviet Russia: Just Like 15th Century England?

Yesterday I noted that I would blog a bit this month about the rule of law in Russia.  Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a front-page feature article by Guy Chazan that offers a rare look into the world of Russia’s oligarchs.  I’m interested in the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, now its most famous prisoner.  Chazan’s story focuses on two more oligarchs: Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich.

The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a decade in which vast fortunes could be made in the chaos of the new Russia.  These men (and they were all men) built empires from scratch on unstable legal foundations in the rubble of post-Soviet society.  The strength or permanence of the law didn’t matter much to the oligarchs; indeed, they relied on its weakness to amass their wealth.

Now that those empires need protecting, however, it is to law that the oligarchs turn.  Berezovsky, once the éminence grise behind Boris Yeltsin, now lives in luxurious self-imposed exile in London.  The WSJ reports that he is worth about $750 million.  Abramovich owns the Chelsea Football Club and the world’s largest yacht; his worth is estimated at about $16.5 billion.  Berezovsky has sued Abramovich for $6 billion, alleging that the latter violated oral agreements about various oil and metal companies in Russia.  Berezovsky claims he left his stake in them in Abramovich’s hands after he fled to London to escape the wrath of then President Vladimir Putin.

According to Abramovich’s attorney, Jonathan Sumption, there is nothing to this claim.  The dispute arose, he says, in a “society without law,” and the deal the two men made was itself “corrupt.”  That might seem like a strange legal defense but, as Sumption continued, “the reality was that that was how business was done in Russia at the time.” 

The case is being heard at London’s High Court.  To help the judge understand the millieu in which the oligarchs did business, Sumption told the court: “In our own national experience, we have to go back to the 15th century to find anything remotely comparable.” 

Maybe.  But the average Russian citizen observing this legal squabble might note that 15th century England had something that 21st century Russia lacks: Robin Hood.


The Importance of Sustained Dialogue

In an important post on the UK based blog “Insight on Conflict,” former US Ambassador to the UN and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, together with two leaders in peacebuilding NGOs (Melanie Greenberg, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and Derek Brown, Executive Director of the Peace Appeal Foundation) highlight the importance of genuine, sustained and supported dialogue to peacebuilding efforts globally.  While the blog celebrates the three distinguished recipients of Friday’s Nobel Peace prize, it also calls attention to the difficulties to current legal contraints to this work in the US, which last year’s decision of the Supreme Court’s in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project made all the more cumbersome in creating obstacles for individuals and institutions involved in peace building work. This is an important issue that should get more attention.


Our Exceptional Constitution

Scholars have long debated the extent to which the U.S. Constitution has influenced constitution-making and constitutional interpretation abroad.  David Law (Washington University) and Mila Versteeg (Virginia) have recently posted an interesting empirical study of the extraterritorial influence of the U.S. Constitution, entitled “The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution.”   I recommend it to anyone interested in comparative constitutionalism and formal constitutional modeling.  

As the title suggests, the authors conclude that in recent decades (particularly since the 1990s), other nations have become increasingly unlikely to model their rights-related (or structural) constitutional provisions on the U.S. Constitution.  Their study, which is based on 60 years of data, offers a systematic analysis of the declining influence of U.S. constitutionalism abroad.  With regard to rights in particular, the authors conclude that the U.S. Constitution is increasingly far from the global mainstream, both in the sense that it contains provisions not found in most constitutions (i.e., a right to bear arms, a formal separation of church and state) and in the sense that its Bill of Rights does not contain what the authors refer to as a developing “generic component” of constitutional rights (the existence of which casts some doubt on the notion that constitutions are strongly expressive instruments).  Lack of formal modeling is only one datum concerning the declining influence of the Bill of Rights.  Many commentators have argued that the Supreme Court’s reluctance to cite or rely upon foreign legal and constitutional sources may be diminishing the global influence and appeal of American constitutional jurisprudence and norms.  

Insofar as countries still look to the U.S. as an example, Law and Versteeg conclude that it is likely not to imitate but rather to avoid the Constitution’s perceived flaws.  Although there is no emergent global model, the authors conclude that at least with respect to nations sharing an Anglo-American legal tradition, Canada’s constitution has become far more influential than the U.S. Constitution.  The causes for the decline of U.S. constitutionalism are varied.  The authors point to several possible factors, including the rise of a superior model, a “general decline of American hegemony,” “judicial parochialism,” the “obsolescence” of the U.S. Constitution, and America’s exceptionalist creed.   

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The PRC Celebrates Its 62nd Birthday

Seeing as I spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and writing about China, it seems fitting that my first day guest blogging coincides with the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The celebration got off to an early start with the launch of China’s first space lab module, called Heavenly Palace No. 1 (discussed here on New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos’s excellent blog). Today, the festivities turned to Beijing where the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are celebrating 62 years of uninterrupted rule. As election season heats up here in the United States, the DNC and RNC understandably could be envious at the prospect of not having to deal with a multi-party system.

Although CPC rule has been consistent over six decades, the experience of the individual leaders in Zhongnanhai (the headquarters near Tiananmen Square in Beijing) has been much more complicated as they jockey for power behind the scenes. The public face is one of orderly transition on a periodic basis, as seen in the handing of power from the third-generation leaders (led by Jiang Zemin) to fourth-generation leaders in the early 2000s (led by Hu Jintao) and, as currently playing out, to the fifth-generation leaders. As was on display today, in public, the top guys (and they are all still guys) wear the same suits and even have near identical haircuts and hair-dye. Yet much speculation is afoot about the future composition of and hierarchy within the Politburo and, at the pinnacle of power, the Politburo Standing Committee.

Xi Jinping is the overwhelming frontrunner for the top post, with Li Keqiang looking to be in the number two spot. Interestingly, Li was one of the first students to study law at Peking University after schools reopened following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Li was never a practicing lawyer, but even having studied law sets him apart as unusual in China’s leadership. There’s been little indication that Li will be a champion of legal reforms once the leadership transition is complete. Nonetheless, his ascent raises questions whether people with legal backgrounds are poised to take a more conspicuous role in the Party/government.



Super on Egypt and the Need for the U.S. to Use its Leverage to Secure Democracy

In a follow up to earlier commentary, Professor David Super has an insightful and important editorial in the Los Angeles Times entitled Time for the U.S. to Use its Leverage with Egypt.  As Super explains, the Egyptian revolution is not a one-act play–indeed, its fate is uncertain and the U.S. can and must play a crucial role in securing democracy by telling the new ruling generals that further crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators will bring an immediate interruption in all aid.  See the editorial below the fold. Read More


What is a treaty? Is that the right question?

(Thanks to Danielle and the Co-Op crowed for letting me stick around a bit longer.)

I am interested in how we should think about treaties.  More specifically, I am interested in different ways we might think about treaties, and why different ways might be appropriate in different circumstances.  At one extreme we might think of treaties as establishing sacred duties, as being based on oaths with deep religious implications.  (Jeremy Waldon has a very interesting discussion of the history of this idea in his recent Charles E. Test lectures, “A Religious View of the Foundations of International Law”.)  I think that there’s a case to be made that supposed principle of international law (or of natural law, depending on one’s account), pacta sunt servanda, depends on this understanding, though I won’t try to make that case here.  (If so, this would be interesting in light of fact that Hans Kelsen at one point held, I believe, pacta sunt servanda to be the “basic norm” of international law, though he later abandoned this.) Read More


Critical Jewish Studies?

The first two areas I could say I had an actual scholarly interest in were Church/State law and Critical Race Theory. This wasn’t an accident — I got interest in CRT because the method of analysis it used really spoke to me as a Jew. It seemed to do a better job of capturing the various problems and barriers faced by members of marginalized groups beyond the standard, thin liberal story.

When I finally got access to Lexis as an undergraduate at Carleton, one of the first things I did was run a search for something approximating a “Critical Jewish Theory”. And I came up with … virtually nothing. With one very notable exception — Stephen Feldman at the University of Wyoming (I know, I know: Jewish studies in Wyoming — could it get any more cliched?) — it was a virtual dead-end. Even Professor Feldman’s work, which I admire and has influenced me greatly, focuses primarily on the American Church/State context. An important topic, to be sure, but hardly the only one which intersects with Jewish lives and areas of concern (international law, in particular, seems like a gimme).

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One Hundred Years Later . . .

Before I get into the substance of this post, I should mention that I’ve finished Chapter Two of Bingham book, which brings the story up to 1840.  Hopefully I’ll have Chapter 3 (of 12) done next month.

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Parliament Act in the UK, which stripped the House of Lords of its power to block permanently a bill passed by the House of Commons.  One interesting facet of this Act is it was intended as a temporary solution until the House of Lords could be reformed.  Here’s what the Preamble of the Act says:

“[W]hereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation:

And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords.”

The charm of the British Constitution is in its gradualism, but this may be taking things too far.


Tsunami and “natural rights” in property

תַּחַת כָּל-הַשָּׁמַיִם לִי-הוּא
— Iyov 41:3 (Tanakh)

Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
— Job 41:11 (Authorized Version)

It’s said that the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755 had a profound effect on the thought of Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, and others. Having occurred so far from Western intellectual centers, the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami and the 2011 Japan tsunami are unlikely to be so influential. The first fits easily into the discourse of “underdevelopment,” and evokes our pity. The second occurred in a country more “like us” in many ways, but was soon overshadowed by just one of its effects, a so-called nuclear “catastrophe” that fits easily into the discourse of energy politics and money, and that resonates with our bi-polar attitude toward technology.

While I can’t speak to the 2004 tsunami, I did spend time earlier this month investigating the impact of the Japanese tragedy first-hand. Obviously, the effects of seeing one erased town or neighborhood after another, in three dimensions and 360 degrees, and of smelling them, and of sneezing or choking on their dust, were more than intellectual. But an unavoidable by-product of the experience is that it’s hard not to think some of our cherished intellectual positions are vain, self-serving and simply wrong. And among them, our notions of property.
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