World of Law: Discussion on International Law

BYU Law Professor David Moore discussed how international law interacts with the law of the United States at the February World of Law lecture. Professor Moore is a scholar of international law who has published articles in the Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern, and UCLA law reviews.

Professor Moore defined various areas within international law. The best known area of international law is public international law, which governs diplomatic relations, the formation of treaties, where to resolve disputes, and how to form international organizations. According to Professor Moore, another area of international law is private international law, which governs commercial relationships across borders. Private international law may involve foreign governments, but it regulates which nation’s laws will be used to settle contract disputes and other similar matters. A third area of international law is foreign law, which is the law of other nations. The final area of international law discussed was the law of foreign relations. Professor Moore defined it as, “The domestic law of a country that governs how it interacts with other countries and how it interacts with international law.” Professor Moore’s remarks focused on this area of international law, specifically on how the U.S. interacts with the laws of other nations.

To illustrate, Professor Moore raised the case of Medellin v. Texas in which Mexican nationals arrested in Texas were not given consular rights when tried for their crimes. The United States federal government had agreed to such consular rights, but individual states had not all explicitly agreed to the same provisions. When the International Court of Justice heard the case and told Texas to reconsider in light of possible discrimination that might have occurred in the absence of the Mexican nationals’ consular rights, Texas claimed the objection had come too late under state law.

“The dispute centered on whether the judgment from the International Court of Judgment preempted Texas law. Ultimately, the court in Medellin held that Texas could stand by its law because this treaty obligation was not self-executing; it was not immediately enforceable in our courts.”

The question raised by Medellin is one example of the many questions considered in international law and one of the few addressed by the Supreme Court in recent cases.