Author Archive | Eugene Kontorovich

Why the Court should uphold Congress’s power in the Jerusalem Passport case

I am not thrilled that the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the Jerusalem Passport Case, Zivotofsky v. Kerry. I continue to think the case is non-justiciable (though not for political question grounds rejected by the Court in their prior encounter with the case), for reasons I will explain in a subsequent post. But I’ve increasingly taken a more generous view of the separation of powers merits.

Recall that Congress passed a law requiring “Israel” to be listed as the country of birth of those Americans born in Jerusalem, but a series of presidents have refused to so, simply letting it say “Jerusalem,” without a country. President Obama claims that complying with the law could have disastrous foreign policy consequences, and possibly lead to war (which itself might be a reason to think the decision belongs to Congress).

The case is widely seen as one about the recognition power, and it is widely thought that the President has a primary role in matters of “recognition.” Recognition comes in two flavors – recognizing countries as sovereign entities and the regimes that run them as proper governments. But the Jerusalem flap involves neither. Congress and the President agree that Israel exists and what its legitimate government is. (And the Executive has been inconsistent in its denials of Jerusalem’s location.)

Nor is this about the terms on which recognition is granted. The question here is an unusual one – the President agrees Israel exists, but just does not want to say that Jerusalem is in it. This is more one of border determination – is West Jerusalem in the recognized country of Israel, or in no country, as the executive sometimes maintains. Seen this way, the issue does not fall within the classic recognition paradigm, and we must consider how […]

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Northwestern Can’t Quit ASA Over Boycott Because it is Not a Member

Northwestern University recently condemned the American Studies Association boycott of Israel. Unlike some other schools that quit their institutional membership in the ASA over the boycott, Northwestern has not. Many of my Northwestern colleagues were about to start urging a similar withdrawal.

Then we learned from our administration that despite being listed as in institutional member by the ASA, the university has, after checking, concluded it has no such membership, does not plan to get one, and is unclear why the ASA would list us as institutional member.

Apparently, at least several other schools listed by the ASA as institutional members say they have no such relationship.

The ASA has been spending a great deal of energy on political activism far from its mission, but apparently cannot keep its books in order. The association has yet to explain how it has come to list as institutional members so many schools that know nothing about such a membership. The ASA’s membership rolls may get much shorter in the coming weeks even without any quitting.

How this confusion came to arise is unclear. ASA membership, like that of many academic organizations, comes with a subscription to their journal. Some have suggested that perhaps the ASA also counts as members any institution whose library happened to subscribe to the journal, ie tacking on membership to a subscription, rather than vice versa. This would not be fair on their part. A library may subscribe to all sorts of journals for academic research purposes (ie Pravda), without endorsing the organization that publishes it. That is the difference between subscription and membership.

I eagerly await the ASA’s explanation of the situation. […]

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Northwestern University Rejects Israel Boycotts

I am proud to say Northwestern University has strongly rejected the American Studies Association and other proposed boycotts of Israel, and reaffirmed its ties to Israel institutions. The following statement was released Friday by Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer (emphasis mine):

Recently the membership of the American Studies Association approved a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions. Two other U.S. academic associations have also advocated that stance. While we support the right of academicians to voice their viewpoints, Northwestern University disagrees strongly with the boycott vote of the ASA. Northwestern also rejects the actions suggested in the resolution. In fact, we believe the ASA resolution directly contradicts the values of academic freedom and advancing scholarship for which Northwestern stands.

Northwestern University faculty and students should have the ability to pursue academic collaborations with their colleagues at institutions around the world, including Israel. Northwestern for years has had highly successful and valued joint degree programs and extensive partnerships with Israeli institutions and scholars. We intend to maintain and strengthen relationships such as these.

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Reality Law

What do Whale Wars and Sister Wives have in common? The activities and participants in both are the subjects of fairly novel federal court decisions. Most recently, the polygamy show yielded Brown v. Burnham, which we’ve written about extensively here. The whale show yielded Institute of Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, dealing with whether the environmentalists’ tactics could be classified as piracy, which we’ve also addressed previously.

Here’s a question: what other reality shows have resulted in interesting federal litigation? A minimum condition would be that the litigation concern the topic or substance of the show, not contractual and other kinds of production-related disputes among the participants. Do reality shows make for good law? Sounds like a panel for the AALS in two weeks…

UPDATE: It is fairly trivial, but the families of the Mob Wives face federal charges regularly. It does not meet the criteria above, however, because they do not result in interesting rulings. […]

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Israel, Palestine, and Democracy

At Commentary, I have a new piece on the common argument that Israel must make a deal with the Palestinians to save itself as a democracy. Here is an excerpt:

The “democracy” argument has become the central justification of the diplomatic process, incessantly invoked by Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli peace envoy Tzipi Livni. What makes the democracy argument effective is that it plays on deep-seated Jewish sentiments. Israelis are a fundamentally liberal, democratic people who desperately do not wish to be put in the role of overlords.

The problem with the democracy argument is that it is entirely disconnected from reality. Israel does not rule the Palestinians. The status quo in no way impeaches Israel’s democratic identity.

It is true that the Palestinians are not represented in the Knesset. But Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria are similarly not represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Simply put, both the Palestinians and Israelis vote for the legislature that regulates them. That is democracy (though obviously it does not play out as well in the Palestinian political system).

The Palestinians have developed an independent, self-regulating government that controls their lives as well as their foreign policy. Indeed, they have accumulated all the trappings of independence and have recently been recognized as an independent state by the United Nations. They have diplomatic relations with almost as many nations as Israel does. They have their own security forces, central bank, top-level Internet domain name, and a foreign policy entirely uncontrolled by Israel.

The Palestinians govern themselves. To anticipate the inevitable comparison, this is not an Israeli-puppet “Bantustan.” From their educational curriculum to their television content to their terrorist pensions, they implement their own policies by their own lights without any subservience to Israel. They pass their own legislation, such as the

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Brown v. Buhman and Bestiality

The Utah polygamy-rights decision is truly a courageous civil rights ruling. Most sexual liberties decisions going all the way back to Griswold v. Connecticut come at a time when the relevant practices have won very broad acceptance, especially among the educated elites. Not so with polygamy, which is quite far from the lives of the elites, and is opposed by a Baptists and bootleggers coalition of religious conservatives (bad for the “traditional family,” smacks of Mormonism) and secular liberals (bad for women, smacks of Mormonism). The judge will make few friends with his ruling. Editorialists will not liken it to great civil rights breakthroughs. It will surely be overturned, with conservative judges fearing an expansion of substantive due process, and liberal ones fearing a backlash. And that is what makes it brave, whether right or wrong.

Now seems like a good time to revisit a post on bestiality from earlier this year, which surely seems less radical now. Bestiality bans are [even?] less constitutionally defensible than polygamy bans because the purported harms associated with the practice are lower. It does not undermine families because it is not a substitute for traditional unions (though presumably limits one to unusually broad-minded spouses). Nor does it oppress women, the empirical claim behind bans on polygamy, as well as prostitution. Here is the body of the post:

Most states criminalize zoophilia and in many places the bans have been enacted quite recently. Moreover, the laws are from time to time enforced.

The 14th Amendment has been interpreted to recognize a broad and very valuable liberty interest in sexual autonomy. Constitutional doctrine regards private sexual choices as vastly more important than other kinds of choices, and thus presumptively protected. Homosexual conduct is just a hot-button particular instance of the general principle. Constitutional protection of […]

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How Broader Acceptance of Universal Jurisdiction Makes it Look Worse

At JustSecurity, Ryan Goodman challenges the methodology of Amnesty International’s updated report of universal jurisdiction, which finds the vast majority of nations implement UJ in their legislation. Prof. Goodman argues Amnesty over-counts (see Kevin Jon Heller’s dissent).

Yet even if Amnesty’s numbers are accurate, they may actually paint a dismal picture of UJ.

The broader question is whether legislation is what we should be counting, rather than cases. As for the actual exercise of UJ, a comprehensive study by Maximo Langer has found only 32 such cases have gone to trial since World War II. Three-quarters of these involved defendants from three particular conflicts that had been made the subject of extraordinary international tribunals (Rwandas, Yugoslavia, Germany).

I discuss trends in UJ in Kiobel Surprise: Unexpected by Scholars but Consistent with International Trends, forthcoming in the Notre Dame Law Review. State practice has been moving away from exercising UJ, and Kiobel is the latest example. As I write:

As a proportion of cases that qualify for UJ prosecution, the enforcement rate approaches zero. Of course, a major practical limitation for criminal UJ is obtaining custody over the world’s war criminals and genocidaires… Even given this limitation, the exercise of UJ is extremely rare. For example, in Britain the Home Office is aware of nearly 700-800 suspected war criminals residing in Britain; over 100 applied for asylum in 2012 alone. Yet the government only seeks to return those against whom there is credible information to their home countries. Indeed, while Britain provided a massive publicity boost for universal jurisdiction in the Pinochet case (which itself did not directly raise universality issues), it has only universally prosecuted two defendants – an Afghan paramilitary officer and a Nepalese colonel, both for torture. Both defendants resided in Britain, and had committed

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Verse for Sunday: “On the Vnion”

WHEN was there contract better driven by Fate,
Or celebrated with more truth of state?
The world the temple was, the priest a king,
The spoused pair two realms, the sea the ring.

-Ben Jonson (1613). The poem was apparently occasioned by comments by James I at the opening of Parliament in 1604, following the Union with Scotland: “What God hath conioyned then, let no man separate. I am the husband, and the Whole Isle is my lawfull Wife.” […]

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New Paper on International Criminal Court’s Jurisdiction over Israeli Settlements

My paper, Israel/Palestine — The ICC’s Uncharted Territory, has just been published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice. It explains that the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over the oft-threatened and much-discussed Palestinian referral of Israeli settlements, despite the General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member state. In brief, the relevant conduct does not occur “in the territory” of Palestine as required by Art. 12 of the Court’s Statute. Abstract here.

The article also provides perhaps the most comprehensive analysis thus far of the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction, which has thus far not caused much controversy, but could have significant implications for American forces in Guantanamo Bay, border incidents in the Koreas and elsewhere in Asia, and numerous other contexts.

The timing is fortuitous: Nabil Shaath, a top Palestinian official and negotiator, last week reemphasized threats to attempt to bring Israel before the ICC after the current negotiation period ends this spring. OK, not that fortuitous, as such threats come with considerable regularity, and it does appear this is Abba’s next move.

A separate article will explain why such a case might not satisfy the ICC’s requirement of dealing only with the gravest of the world’s atrocities. (I say might, because it is anyone’s guess; though the gravity threshold is a key component of the Court’s jurisdiction, it remains entirely undefined.) Thinking about calling it “When Gravity Fails” but that might be too cute. […]

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Thanksgiving for Purported Pirates in Russia and the U.S.

It is a happy Thanksgiving for defendants in two very different piracy cases – the trial of Ali, a Somali education official arrested while attending an education conference in the U.S., and the crew of Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise, arrested by Russia last month while minding Russia’s business on an oil rig. I’ve written about both here before.

Both very different cases have one thing in common – aggressive charges of piracy for conduct that has never been treated as such.

Russia had arrested the Greenpeace provocateurs on the high seas for piracy, though their actions clearly did not constitute the crime. However, piracy is the only legal basis for seizing a vessel on the high seas. Afterwards,hooliganism charges were substituted for piracy, making the “Arctic 30″ a kind of international Pussy Riot.

Holland, the flag state, brought Russia before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which just ordered Moscow to promptly release the vessel and crew. While the latter are now out on bail (but must stay in Russia), Russia has announced that it will not comply with the prompt release order (see Julian Ku’s discussion). Interestingly, Russia had complied with ITLOS rulings in two prior cases. But that was before the U.S.’s withdraw from global power invited Russia to strut like a Power again. (And its neighbors have noticed, and already turned from the West and come to kiss the ring.)

I’ve written about Ali’s case before: he was charged with piracy on the high seas, though his only role was as an ex post negotiator. No one had ever been charged for “high seas” piracy for after-the-fact dry land activity – the essence of piracy is its location. And this is especially true in a universal jurisdiction […]

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The Obamacare Fix’s Legality, State Law and Standing

I have a piece in POLITICO discussing the constitutional problems with the ObamaCare fix, which have been previewed here before. One aspect is whether state officials can ignore ObamaCare and instead apply “The Fix.” Regardless of the discretion President Obama has, state officials do not have enforcement discretion over federal law. It is just supreme, and even if the president ignores it, state officials can not.

Unlike prior exercises of presidential enforcement discretion, the fix depends on states violating federal law. That is because it does not change the law on the books. Rather, the feds are simply signaling that they will not enforce certain provisions for some time.

But many parts of Obamacare do have to be applied by states, the traditional front lines of insurance regulation. States, however, lack “enforcement discretion” when it comes to ignoring federal law, even when the president thinks it would be a good idea. As the president has often reminded us, the ACA is “the law of the land,” and remains so after the fix.

The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause makes federal law—not presidential policies— binding on the states. So what’s a state insurance commissioner to do? Federal law requires health plans to have a mandatory level of “minimum coverage.” Thus it is not clear how a state insurance commissioner can authorize a plan that violates federal law.

But state officials may encounter the ACA in different ways. In some states, it will have the general preemptive force of federal law. So states that authorize non-compliant plans pursuant to the Fix would be in conflict with federal law.

A more interesting scenario involves states that have passed “conforming legislation” to “domesticate” the ACA to make it more convenient to enforce. In such states, the ACA is both federal and state law, and at the […]

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The EU Supports Exploitation of Resources in the Occupied Territories

The Occupied Sawahari Territories that is (aka Western Sahara).

Global Post runs my commentary today on the European Union’s new treaty with Morocco, which does everything the EU has been claiming in its increasingly hostile recent dealings with Israel that international law forbids. The EU’s position regarding Western Sahara is consistent with its practice in Northern Cyprus and elsewhere.

The European Union recently affirmed that there is no international legal problem in signing a deal with an occupying power that extends to the territory it occupies, or from foreign companies doing business in occupied territory.

It did so when it provisionally approved a fisheries agreement earlier this month with Morocco that extends into the territory of occupied Western Sahara, which is beyond Morocco’s recognized sovereign territory.

Moreover, the EU actually pays Morocco for European access to Western Saharan resources. On all these points, the agreement directly contradicts what the EU, in negotiations with Israel, calls fundamental principles of international law.

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