A Global Survey on the Study of International Law (Part II)

Last month I put up the first in what I anticipate will be a series of posts on the subject of international legal education. I summarized the results of a global survey on the study of international law, reported that a majority of law students around the world must complete at least one course on the subject prior to graduation, and pointed out that the overwhelming tendency for American law schools to offer international law exclusively as an elective is fairly abnormal. In this post, I’ll explain my methodology and elaborate a bit on the data underlying my conclusions.

The methodology was pretty simple: I relied on a collection of official government documents, information available on the websites of university law faculties, and, occasionally, email correspondence with faculty members. Where this evidence established that a curriculum includes a mandatory course that on its face substantially implicates public international law, I coded the corresponding university as requiring international legal training. Inversely, I coded a university as requiring no such training where the evidence demonstrated that courses on public international law are elective or unavailable. Finally, I coded a university as “no data” if it has a law faculty but evidence of its curriculum was inaccessible within the confines of the research methods. For present purposes, the key point is that the numbers only reflect what I could find. This probably amounts to all relevant data for many states. But for others, particularly in the developing world, the data are less complete because not all universities have functioning websites and even those that have them often omit information about their curriculum.

With that established, let’s break down the compulsory training rates on a geographic basis. Table 1 shows the aggregate percentage of law schools on each continent that mandate at least one course on international law.

Table 1

Continent Aggregate Rate
Africa 85%
Asia 91%*
Europe 70%
North America 40%
Oceania 30%
South America 99%

Table 2 in turn shows the average rate of compulsory training among states on each continent.

Table 2

Continent Average National Rate
Africa 83%
Asia 85%*
Europe 85%
North America 83%
Oceania 33%
South America 99%

As these numbers show, mandatory education in international law is globally pervasive. It is common on all continents, particularly Africa, Asia, and South America. In this sense, basic competency is not a peculiarity of the European lawyer, but standard for a majority of law graduates around the world.

If anything, features of the survey methodology suggest that the results are likely to understate the amount of training that is taking place. For instance, the data do not incorporate assumptions about the curricula of specific universities even in the presence of strong national trends. In Argentina, for example, I found fifty-one law schools that require a course on international law, zero at which the course is elective or unavailable, and four for which information is presently inaccessible. Given such a strong trend, it is likely that the four schools with an inaccessible curriculum also require the study of international law, but I treated them as “no data” schools out of an abundance of caution. Additionally, the map codes universities as not requiring courses on international law if they offer multiple forms of a basic law degree, at least one of which does not include a compulsory international course. Finally, the map does not address elective courses, advanced degrees, or sources of non-university training, such as bar examinations and post-graduate programs for future judges and prosecutors.

But the data also suggest that training in international law is not universal. Table 3 displays the numbers on the ten countries with the lowest rates of compulsory study.

Table 3

Country National Rate
Ireland 0%
Japan 0%
New Zealand 0%
Nigeria 0%
United Kingdom 3%
South Korea 4%
United States 4%
Canada 23%
Ghana 25%
Australia 33%

What stands out most about these particular figures is that, of the ten states listed, eight—Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ghana, and Australia—have a common law heritage, while the remaining countries of Japan and South Korea both maintain close ties to the common law West. It appears, therefore, that law schools in common law jurisdictions are far less inclined to prioritize the study of international norms.

To me, this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it challenges a stereotype. Many commentators seem to hold the view that the United States is unique among advanced democracies in its level of disregard for international norms. As a general matter, that might be true—I don’t know. But from the perspective of educational patterns, such a view seems unwarranted. In places like Ireland, Japan, and New Zealand, law schools seem to do even less to promote the study of international law than their counterparts do in the United States. Second, Table 3 raises a question: why do universities in civil law jurisdictions tend to mandate the study of international norms at a higher rate? I’ll take up that issue in the next post.

*The figures for Asia are still preliminary. They assume that universities in China, India, Pakistan, and Russia follow national regulations that require all law schools to teach a compulsory course on international law, but I haven’t yet looked at specific curricular offerings in those jurisdictions to confirm that universities follow the regulations.

Posted in International Law, International Legal Education | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mwani v. Al Qaeda

A federal magistrate judge issued a noteworthy decision yesterday in Mwani v. Al Qaeda—a case filed several years ago by victims of the 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Six Kenyan nationals alleged jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and asserted claims for wrongful death, assault, and battery. The court found Al Qaeda liable on two of the claims and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.

Two aspects of the decision seem significant. First, the court reaffirmed a prior holding that jurisdiction is appropriate even under the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which established that ATS jurisdiction is available only for claims that “touch and concern the territory of the United States” with “sufficient force” to displace the presumption against the extraterritorial application of U.S. law. The magistrate judge concluded that Mwani satisfied Kiobel because Al Qaeda carried out part of the planning within the United States and directed the attack against the U.S. Embassy and its employees. It’s fairly common for an ATS case not to survive Kiobel these days, but the conclusion here seems reasonable.

Second, the court found Al Qaeda liable to the six victims based on the common law of assault and battery. This part of the decision is more problematic. The ATS provides for federal jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort,” but only when that tort is “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” The question, then, is not simply whether the defendant’s conduct is tortious, but whether it’s tortious as a matter of international law. In this analysis, domestic common law is relevant only as the vehicle by which a violation of international law becomes actionable. Pure common law tort claims are simply disallowed. Indeed, not even all claims resting on international law are actionable. As the Supreme Court explained in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the ATS provides jurisdiction only for claims that “rest on a norm of international character accepted by the civilized world and defined with a specificity comparable to the features of the 18th century” international prohibitions on the violation of safe conducts, infringement of the rights of ambassadors, and piracy. For the Mwani plaintiffs to prevail, they have to show not only that international law prohibits assault and battery, but that those prohibitions are widely accepted and clearly defined. They didn’t do this, and I’m skeptical that they could.

The court appears to have considered ATS jurisdiction appropriate because another judge previously concluded that the “attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya alleged in Plaintiffs’ Complaint impinged the diplomatic mission of the United States and directly infringed on the rights of ambassadors.” But as I understand it, that’s not how it works. The issue is not whether any aspect of the defendant’s conduct amounts to a tort in violation of international law, but whether the defendant’s conduct vis-à-vis the plaintiffs amounts to such a tort. None of the plaintiffs was a U.S. ambassador or employee of the U.S. Embassy, and the basis for their claims is not injury to the ambassador but rather themselves, so the international law on the protection of ambassadors has no bearing on the merits of their claims. Exercising ATS jurisdiction in these circumstances is analogous to using federal question jurisdiction to adjudicate a standard state-law tort claim on the reasoning that a third party could’ve brought a federal claim arising out of the same incident. That doesn’t happen.

Posted in Alien Tort Statute, U.S. Foreign Relations Law | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gingery v. City of Glendale

Back in July 2013, the City of Glendale, California installed a “Comfort Woman Peace Monument” in its Central Park in memory of Korean women who were victimized by the Japanese army during World War II. A few months later, a small group of Japanese citizens responded by filing a complaint in federal court to require the removal of the monument on the ground that it interfered with the federal government’s exclusive constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs. The district court dismissed the complaint last month for lack of standing and on the merits, reasoning that the monument is constitutional insofar as it does not conflict with U.S. foreign policy. That seems to be the right result, but the plaintiffs appealed last week. I can’t imagine that the Ninth Circuit will reverse.


Posted in Foreign Affairs Constitution | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Project on the Study of International Law

In the United States, public international law is not an important part of legal education. By my count, only eight schools require their students to complete a course on the subject: Florida International, Harvard, Hofstra, UC-Irvine, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and Washington & Lee. Everywhere else, international law is purely elective. Insofar as relatively few students tend to choose this elective, we have a legal profession made up of individuals who lack formal training on topics like treaty interpretation, human rights law, and international organizations.

Is this common in other countries or another example of American exceptionalism? To answer that question, I conducted a global survey of the study of international law. The results, which are available in the form of an interactive world map at PILMap.org, show the frequency with which law schools and governments around the world require individuals to study public international law en route to obtaining a law degree. By clicking on individual states, you can look at summary statistics and details about the curricula of specific law schools.

To me, the results are fascinating for a variety of reasons. Here’s just one: The American tendency to relegate international law to a peripheral status in legal education is abnormal. It appears that all or nearly all law schools in a clear majority of countries teach a compulsory course on public international law. Unsurprisingly, this is true in Europe. But it is also true for much of Asia and all of Latin America, where it is not uncommon to see a curriculum with two or even three mandatory courses on topics such as international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The United States is not entirely alone. Almost no law schools in the United Kingdom, Ireland, or New Zealand require international legal training, and only minorities do in Australia and Canada. Similarly, compulsory courses on international law are virtually absent in the civil law jurisdictions of Japan and South Korea, perhaps due to the relatively close relationships that they share with the common law West. And finally, international legal education is essentially absent in a small number of unstable and impoverished states, such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan. There is a common law/ civil law divide. And there is a rich/ poor divide.

The map raises a lot of interesting questions: What explains the significant difference between the civil law states and their common law counterparts? Do the training patterns have any effect on international cooperation? Do they affect national compliance rates? I will explore these and other issues in a series of upcoming posts.

Posted in International Law | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Belated Thoughts on Bond v. United States

I’m a bit late on this, but I’ll offer a few thoughts on the decision in Bond v. United States, which addressed a challenge to a statute that Congress passed in 1998 to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (“CWC”). Most have heard about the underlying facts: After finding out that her husband was the father of her best friend’s soon-to-be-born child, Carol Anne Bond tried to poison the friend with 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate. This plan didn’t work, but the authorities found out about it and prosecuted Ms. Bond under 18 U.S.C. § 229(a) for possession and use of a “chemical weapon.” Bond then entered a conditional guilty plea that preserved her right to appeal and, after a lot of other litigation, made two arguments before the Supreme Court. First, she contended that Section 229(a) doesn’t apply because she didn’t use 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate as “chemical weapons” within the meaning of the statute. Second, she argued that Section 229(a) is invalid even if it applies because the statute exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and intrudes upon powers that the Tenth Amendment reserves for the states.

This case drew a lot of attention from people who care about U.S. foreign relations law because Bond’s second argument asked the Court to overrule Missouri v. Holland—an important Justice Holmes opinion holding that the principle of federalism does not constrain federal treaties or their implementing legislation. The longstanding effect of Holland has been that while federalism likely precludes Congress from passing an ordinary statute to prohibit, for example, states’ use of the death penalty, the President and Senate could enter into an international treaty containing such a prohibition, and the House and Senate could pass any necessary implementing legislation to ensure that the treaty becomes binding upon state officials. In this sense, Holland has given the federal government greater freedom to enter into international agreements; without the decision, it would’ve been more difficult for the United States to join the human rights conventions and various other multilateral treaties that have emerged since World War II. Bond initially looked like a high-stakes decision in light of the possibility that it would invalidate Holland and curtail treatymaking.

Ultimately, however, the Bond majority expressly chose to avoid ruling on the Holland question. Instead, the Court held that Section 229(a) didn’t apply because the statutory language was too ambiguous to overcome a presumption that Congress ordinarily intends to honor the reserved powers of the states, including over the prosecution of purely local crimes. My colleague Michael O’Hear has offered a helpful analysis on that holding and its implications for the field of criminal law. In the remainder of this post, I’ll raise two points from the perspective of U.S. foreign relations law.

First, given the longstanding precedent of Holland, it strikes me as strange for the Court to apply a federalism canon to interpret Section 229(a). The statute, after all, implemented the CWC, and the main point of Holland has been that federalism does not constrain implementing legislation. Unsurprisingly, none of the other cases the majority cited to justify its approach involved implementing legislation for a treaty. Bond thus divined congressional intent with respect to Section 229(a) based on a constitutional principle that was unequivocally and categorically inapplicable at the time Congress drafted the statute. It is implausible to think that the canon could reliably identify congressional intent in such circumstances.

The second point I want to make is that Bond will affect treatymaking even though it declined to overrule Holland. The practical consequence of the Court’s decision is to require Congress to include in future implementing legislation ultra-clear evidence of any intent to have the legislation operate within a traditional domain of state governments. Satisfying this requirement will likely prove challenging insofar as federalism is a politically sensitive issue. Going forward, U.S. officials will either have to risk entering into non-self-executing treaties for which Congress may decline to pass implementing legislation with Bond-compliant language, or enter into self-executing treaties that do not depend on implementing legislation for their domestic effect.

Posted in Foreign Affairs Constitution | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post at Opinio Juris

I’ve done a guest post on Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the Israel passport case, over at the international law blog Opinio Juris. It’s available here.

Posted in Foreign Affairs Constitution, U.S. Foreign Relations Law, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation

There’s an important lawsuit currently pending in federal court in San Diego. In this post, I’ll provide a brief summary and then highlight an intriguing legal question that the parties haven’t addressed.

First the summary: Two months ago, a class of U.S. Navy sailors filed an amended complaint against Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”), the operator of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima that melted down after an earthquake-induced tsunami destroyed their power systems in March 2011. Within days of the earthquake, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to provide humanitarian aid to victims, but inadvertently exposed dozens of sailors to allegedly high levels of radiation in the process. Press reports suggest that the carrier sailed into a plume of radioactive steam a couple of miles off the coast, and that the crew drank and bathed in desalinated seawater that was irradiated. The claimed effects include reproductive problems, leukemia, ulcers, brain cancer, and thyroid illnesses, among others. Upon return from the mission, one sailor allegedly began to lose his eyesight. Another gave birth to a child with multiple birth defects. Some observers believe that the Ronald Reagan–a $6 billion vessel–is now too radioactive to keep in service. According to the complaint, TEPCO is responsible because the company knew about the high levels of radiation emitting from the reactors but nevertheless failed to inform the public, including the ship’s crew. Claims include negligence; strict liability for design defect, failure to warn, and ultra-hazardous activities; public and private nuisance; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. As remedies, the plaintiffs have demanded compensation for lost wages, punitive damages, and a $1 billion fund for medical care. Last month TEPCO filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of international comity, forum non conveniens, the political question doctrine, and various alleged deficiencies in the prima facie case.

As the plaintiffs prepare to respond to TEPCO’s motion, I’d like to draw attention to one issue that TEPCO hasn’t raised: choice of law. The sailors’ claims appear to rely exclusively on the tort law of California, but it’s not clear that California law should apply. After all, the alleged exposure happened in Japan as a result of the acts of a Japanese corporation. One might reasonably assume that Japanese law governs in such circumstances. To resolve this issue, the district court would have to apply California’s choice of law rules, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co. Those rules would in turn require the court to ask three questions in deciding between the substantive laws of California and Japan: (1) Is Japanese law materially different from California’s? (2) If there’s a material difference, what are the respective interests of Japan and California in having their own law apply? And (3), if Japan and California both have an interest in the application of their own law, which jurisdiction’s interest would suffer the greatest impairment if the court chose to apply the law of the other? I’ll address these questions in order, while assuming for the sake of brevity that the plaintiffs’ claims are all valid as a matter of California law.

Starting with the first question, Japanese law provides for the strict liability of nuclear power plant operators in the event of nuclear damage from radiation exposure. To that extent, Japanese law is similar to the rule of strict liability on which the plaintiffs rely. But there are also material differences. For example, the complaint seeks punitive damages–a remedy that is unavailable in Japan. In fact, Japan’s opposition to punitive damages is such that Japanese courts often refuse to cooperate in the enforcement of foreign punitive damages awards even if the awards are appropriate under the law of the jurisdiction where they were obtained. Further, the complaint names “Does 1 through 200″ as additional defendants alongside TEPCO, but Japan’s Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage channels liability exclusively to TEPCO as the power plant’s operator. Even assuming that relevant Japanese and California laws are otherwise identical, these differences mean that the choice of law could play a major role in shaping the extent of the plaintiffs’ recovery.

The next task, then, would be to identify the respective interests of Japan and California in having their own laws apply. Japan has a few. One is nexus–the lawsuit challenges the conduct of a Japanese corporation in Japan, for injuries apparently suffered in Japanese territorial waters. Another is financial–the Japanese government’s role in rescuing TEPCO and ensuring the availability of compensation to victims suggests that Japan has a significant financial interest in the outcome of the litigation. Still another interest is that the suit could complicate efforts to provide uniform levels of compensation to victims with commensurate injuries. The application of California law would mean that the sailors, if successful, are entitled to far more than Japanese victims who have suffered similar or perhaps even more extensive harms, given the jurisdictions’ differing approaches to punitive damages. Differential treatment could in turn generate significant dissatisfaction and resentment among victims in Japan. On the other side, California has an interest in deterring foreign torts that harm California residents.

The final challenge under California’s choice of law doctrine would be to weigh the competing interests. To me, it’s not entirely clear how the federal court would rule on the issue if TEPCO had raised it. Japan’s interests seem to be numerically superior, but California’s is nevertheless significant. I offer no conclusion on this point, other than to say that neither view seems unreasonable.

Given the potential significance of choice of law, one wonders why it’s not in TEPCO’s motion. My guess is that the omission isn’t an accident. Most likely, TEPCO purposefully chose to focus instead on forum non conveniens, for two reasons. First, forum non would would be a bigger win in the sense that it results in immediate dismissal, while a choice of Japanese law would not. Second, there’s a tension between forum non and choice of law doctrine that makes it a little awkward to raise the issues simultaneously. To persuade the court to dismiss, TEPCO has to show that the Japanese judicial system is an adequate alternative forum that’s capable of redressing the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries. But to persuade the court to apply Japanese law, TEPCO would first have to highlight material differences between the relevant laws of California and Japan, as explained above. Doing this while also arguing forum non would force TEPCO to walk a fine line, arguing that Japanese law is different but not too different from the California alternative.

As the choice of law analysis illustrates, this case is fascinating for a lot of reasons and worth following. I look forward to seeing the plaintiffs’ response and the court’s ruling on the motion.

[This article was first published on the Law.com Network on April 21, 2014.]

Posted in Foreign Affairs Constitution, U.S. Foreign Relations Law | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment