Tag Archives | treaties

Peace Treaties & the War Power

Ilya’s response to Rick, that the Peace Treaty with Britain’s domestically applicable provisions could have been implemented through the foreign commerce power, seems right to me. But there may be another power that would have justified such legislation.

Peace is the flip side of war. Thus Congress’s power to decide on war also presumably includes the power to make peace, as Madison noted in the 1790s. Just as war does not need to be formally declared, peace can be established without a treaty. There may be international law advantages to a treaty, but peace could be created simply through a the cessation of hostilities, an executive agreement (such as an armistice), and so forth. Thus legislation dealing with the loose ends of a war would be independently justified, to some extent, by the War Power, as the Supreme Court recognized in Woods & Cloyd v. Miller.

Indeed, aside from the treaty with Britain, the Treaty Power would be an incomplete basis for legislating “peace conditions,” as it would potentially be difficult to exercise in cases of debilitatio, the collapse or disintegration of the enemy government.

The Constitution gives the Federal government numerous express powers for directly regulating transborder phenomenon, including war and foreign commerce. The difficulty with the potentially broad uses of the Treaty power today is that they deal with purely internal phenomenon, which are only of general “concern” to foreign countries. […]

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Except the Bill of Rights: The Selective-Strong Treaty Position

Generally, the entire Constitution is seen as having equal weight; there are not tiers of authority (unlike in the constitution’s of many other nations, which make certain provisions suspendable). Thus I have always been puzzled by the dominant view, well-articulated by Prof. Pildes, which manages to account for Missouri v. Holland and Reid v. Covert by saying that treaties can expand legislative powers but not infringe the Bill of Rights.

I do not see a strong basis to exempt just the Bill of Rights from the the general rule of treaties, whatever that rule may be, for several reasons. Mostly, I see no way to neatly sever the Bill of Rights from the rest of the Constitution.

1) There is no other area, to my knowledge, where one can override enumerated powers but not the Bill of Rights. If anything, the latter are at least waivable by individuals, while the former are not.

2) The 10th Amendment, reflecting the principle of Federalism, is of course part of the Bill of Rights. So the position must be “the Bill of Rights, except the last bit,” which seems even more selective.

3) Could a treaty override Bill of Rights protections against action by the states? If not, this means treaties can override everything except Amends. I-VII, (maybe XI, see below), and XIV, D.P. Clause. That sounds even more selective.

4) Individual rights protections are contained elsewhere besides the Amends. I-VIII. Take the jury trial provision of Art. III: can treaties override that? (It is not a hypothetical question, as this would be the effect of signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.) What about the President’s pardon power? We can imagine the creation of mixed courts for treaty crimes, with convicts made unpardonable.

5) Now lets turn back […]

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