Moves by more than 30 states in recent years to curb the use of foreign law in U.S. courts has been fueled by “anti-Muslim bigotry” and will present legal and practical problems for American courts and families, according to a new report released Thursday by a pair of leading liberal interest groups.
Legislators in at least 32 states have introduced or discussed such laws in the last two years, according the report released by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for American Progress (CAP). Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arizona have already passed foreign law bans, while South Dakota has banned enforcement of any “religious code.”
The law’s drafters say they are needed to preserve U.S. sovereignty and halt the incursion of foreign legal ideas and values into American law, but Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union said anti-foreign law proponents draw on longstanding nationalistic fear and distrust of other cultures. in particular Muslim “Sharia law” based on Islamic religious principles.
“It’s quite clear that the driving force of this movement to push bans on Sharia law is anti-Muslim bigotry, plain and simple,” Mr. Mach said Thursday in a CAP discussion on the report.
Many anti-foreign law bills are modeled after New York attorney David Yerushalmi’s draft of “American Laws for American Courts” and supported by advocacy organization American Public Policy Alliance. According to APPA’s website, foreign law bans are necessary to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens against “the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law.”
The anti-foreign law movement started in 2010 when Oklahoma voters approved an amendment banning the use of Sharia law in state courts. Similar proposals in other states refocused the legislation against foreign law in general after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the anti-Sharia law amendment unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel, a co-author of the report, said foreign laws don’t intrude on constitutional rights because they only apply when they do not conflict with U.S. laws. She brought up the example of polygamy — a practice allowed under Sharia law but not recognized in the U.S.
The Brennan/CAP report cites potential problems for non-Muslim religious communities when marriages, adoptions, divorces and child custody agreements based on foreign law are recognized in some states but not in others. Other potential problems include complicating international business agreements, giving states too much power and invalidating the decisions of other state courts.