- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer wooed a group of top-level French lawyers in Washington last week, addressing them in their native tongue and insisting on the need for America to better understand international law.

More than 10 percent of the 80 cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last year required the court to consider international law, he said Thursday in remarks at a conference organized by the Paris Bar Association.

The event, featuring panel discussions and a speech by French Deputy Justice Minister Nicole Guedj, focused mainly on the emergence of global legal standards, especially for international business.

But Justice Breyer, appointed to the high court by President Clinton in 1994, spoke in a broader context, saying his duties have changed “tremendously” during the past 10 years, “specifically because of the cases thrust on us.”

He referred to three cases during the past year, including one in which the Supreme Court found that, under U.S. law, Americans can sue other nations in U.S. courts for long-ago war crimes and other offenses.

In another case, the court found certain international antitrust lawsuits could be brought in U.S. courts only if at least a portion of the purportedly illegal activity occurred in the United States. Justice Breyer cited a third case, in which the court ruled to allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways without meeting the same environmental standards as U.S. trucks.

He also noted the “enemy combatant” cases, involving foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States in the war on terror.

Justice Breyer made his remarks after similar comments by his colleague, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in an Oct. 27 speech at Georgetown Law School.

Justice O’Connor extolled the growing role of international law in U.S. courts, saying judges would be negligent if they disregarded its importance in a post-September 11 world of heightened tensions.

“International law is no longer a specialty. … It is vital if judges are to faithfully discharge their duties,” she said.

In his speech last week, Justice Breyer delivered about a third of his remarks in French and several times switched between French and English. At one point, he drew a wave of laughter by describing how his colleagues at the Supreme Court often remind him: “Stephen, you don’t even speak English very well.”

Miss Guedj, meanwhile, focused her remarks on ways in which globalization brings the different judicial systems together, and she stressed that law is now a product, subject to the rules of supply and demand.

“The choice of a legal system has become a major geopolitical and economic stake,” she said, particularly referring to new and emerging states, which have the opportunity to choose between the French system and the Anglo-Saxon system.

The conference also included a video message from Dominique Perben, the French justice minister, who recalled that 64 of the World Bank’s 133 member countries already are based on a French-style legal system and 35 on an Anglo-Saxon system.

Miss Guedj noted the rise of legal globalization with the emergence of economic globalization, but she warned it would be a caricature to assume that globalization will lead inevitably to a world in which the nation that sets up the rule has an advantage over the other players.

It is useful, in some places, for countries “to have two different legal systems,” she said. “We all advocate competition, [because it is] an essential incentive for reform and modernization, [as well as] an efficient means to estimate our strengths and weaknesses and, therefore, to adapt permanently.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide