A Good Day, Supreme Court Rules Against Foreign Precedent


By: Warner Todd Huston

In 2003, then Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor famously posited that our judicial system should take into account foreign court rulings when deciding American cases prompting outraged conservatives to denounce her idea as endangering American sovereignty and destroying the Constitution of the United States of America. This year, the Roberts led SCOTUS has made an important decision that will serve to forestall that possibility.

In October of 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave a speech in Atlanta where she predicted that “over time we will rely increasingly, or take notice at least increasingly, of international and foreign courts in examining domestic issues.” Naturally, Americans who revere the Constitution were outraged over the thought that we’d place foreign court rulings before our own law of the land, essentially allowing foreigners to decide questions of American jurisprudence.

The fear over allowing foreign precedent or areas of jurisdiction to overlap into ours raises discussion of the very differences between our system of government and legal traditions and that of the rest of the world. Should we rely on foreign precedent, for instance, the very concept of innocent until proven guilty is put into doubt because foreign rulings will not generally be based on that bedrock principle.

Further, should American courts recognize the kangaroo courts of The Hague and the so-called “International Court of Justice” (or the World Court), foreign institutions such as these would have the authority to incarcerate American citizens for their politically motivated, anti-American “trials” at any time. After all, should we cast away our Constitutional rights by allowing foreign rulings to take precedence over our system, this will be bound to occur. What would stop such a thing from happening, anyway?

In any case, the World Court has already made an effort to intercede in our court system with the case of Medellín v. Texas. In this 15-year-old case, a Mexican national named Jose Ernesto Medellín was charged with murder and was sentenced to the death penalty in the state of Texas. As a result of Medellín’s sentence, anti-death penalty advocates in Mexico and other nations took notice and made to intercede with a case brought before the World Court.

Medellín’s attorneys and advocates argued that the U.S. was bound by a World Court decision that Mexican officials had won “ordering” a new trial and that the death sentence be vacated. Not only that, but the World Court also “overturned” the sentences of 51 other foreigners who had become death row inmates in American prisons.

As Ted Cruz of Human Events Magazine writes, “The World Court ruling was unprecedented. In over 200 years of our Nation’s history, no foreign tribunal has ever before asserted the authority to bind U.S. courts, much less to reopen final criminal convictions. And, armed with the decision of the World Court, Medellín argued that American courts had no option but to obey.”

Well, good news was had with a 6 to 3 decision that favors U.S. sovereignty. (See a .pdf file of the SCOTUS decision.)

The Roberts court ruled that World Court rulings cannot be enforced inside the United States. Since the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, this SCOTUS decision re-affirms that all jurisprudential power is vested in that document and foreign courts, then, hold no power.

As Cruz notes, “If Medellín had prevailed, it would have elevated the World Court above the Supreme Court of the United States, given that foreign court binding authority, and made its far-away judges the final arbiters of the law that governs American citizens.”

This ruling should effectively make the dangerous and absurd idea that U.S. courts should pay attention to foreign precedent null and void. Let’s hope it is the first of many more rulings that protects American sovereignty.

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