Friday, July 17, 2009

Sotomayor and Foreign Law

I thought the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor were a bit of an anticlimax--did we really learn anything about her that we didn't know before? As has become typical of recent confirmation hearings, the purpose seemed to be to give the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee an opportunity to grandstand and to ask questions to which they already knew the answers or to which they knew the candidate could not or would not reply. One thing that became more clear, however, was Judge Sotomayor's "cautious openness to foreign laws," as the title of an editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe put it. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, whose potential career on the federal bench ended when his nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee over concerns about racist comments he had made, "took [Sotomayor] to task for merely posing the question in [a book] introduction of 'how much we have to learn from international courts and from their male and female judges about the process of judging and the factors outside the law that influence our decisions.'" The book, The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World's Cases, was co-authored by the author of the editorial, Daniel Terris. Click here for a video from the Carnegie Council on the subject of the book featuring two of the co-authors and Judge Stephen Schwebel. Critics of Sotomayor and other judges who believe it is prudent to look to the courts of other countries for insights about judging and about international legal issues, allege that such an approach is tantamount to deferring to foreign law. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As Terris concludes, "[A] burgeoning respect for judges and courts from overseas should help further the heartening idea that the United States is not a nation unto itself, but a nation among nations, working toward justice for its own citizenry and for men and women around the globe." This respect would help to undo some of the damage to our standing in the world community caused by the policies of the Bush Administration.

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