Archive | February, 2013

“Private ends” in the Travaux Préparatoires of the Law of the Sea Treaty

A look at the legislative history does not support the notion of a subjective, political exemption for politically-motivated pirates.

Kevin Jon Heller’s argument that political motives are excluded from piracy rests less on the Law of the Sea Treaty itself than on its intellectual predecessors, the League of Nations Report of 1927 and the Harvard Draft Convention of 1932. The ILC Commentary to the Law of Sea Treaty specifically endorses the latter, saying that “in general” it agrees with the Draft Convention (it does not provide such deference to the former.

The Harvard Draft supports the lack of any subjective, motive-based inquiry. Here is exactly what it says in its commentary on the “private ends” part of the definition of piracy:

[A]lthough it is true that the typical pirate of fiction and tradition was an indiscriminative plunderer, expediency and not traditional epithets or the fancy of traditional concepts should direct the definition of the common jurisdiction over piracy, and every consideration of certainty in prosecution and of assured protection in places outside the territory of all states argues that the jurisdiction to seize and to punish a robber or a killer for private ends should not depend on whether the offender had by acts or words displayed an intent to plunder or slay only once or oftener, or on whether he intended to attack only the
citizens of certain states and their ships and other property, or to prey on the people and commerce of all nations indiscriminately. Such matters of collateral intent of an offender (often uncertain and indistinct) and of his transactions other than those involved in the case at hand, are very unsatisfactory as elements in a basis of state jurisdiction.

On the other hand, the language in the Draft that Prof. Heller says best [...]

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Hawaii and New Mexico Legislatures Consider Bills to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Committees in the Hawaii and New Mexico state legislatures recently approved bills that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana [HT: Tom Angell of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition]. Unfortunately, the bills would only decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nonetheless, they would be a major change from the status quo. If the laws are enacted, these states would add to the momentum for legalization created by the recent passage of referendum initiatives legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Both public and elite opinion is gradually turning against the War on Drugs.

Obviously, even if these and other states legalize marijuana, it would remain illegal under federal law. But, as more and more states legalize marijuana, it will make it difficult for the federal government to continue the federal “war” against it, and possibly increase political pressure for repealing the federal ban entirely. [...]

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Broadway musicals and physics

In my copious spare time, I occasionally amuse myself by doing some physics problems (out of this book). Sometimes a problem expresses a time in years, and since it’s usually a good idea to convert times into seconds, one sometimes has to figure out how many seconds there are in a (365-day) year. Fortunately, someone with a good knowledge of Broadway musicals can save some steps by just noting that the answer is 525,600 x 60.

UPDATE: Commenter Eric Jablow points out that xkcd did this already. [...]

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Canadian Supreme Court Upholds Prohibitions on Speech that “Tends to Expose” Groups “to Hatred” Based on Their Sexual Orientation

I haven’t posted much in the last few days, because I’ve been working on yet another cert petition. (“[T]he burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.”) But I thought I’d pass along a link to a post on this subject by Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause). [...]

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What the Definition of Piracy Means for UNCLOS & ATS

Judge Kozinski has gotten considerable criticism from liberals for ruling that Sea Shepherd is involved in piracy under international law. A subsequent post will provide additional support for the decision on the merits. Here, I’d like to look at the big picture and suggest that liberals should be thanking Kozinski: a contrary ruling would have torpedoed two liberal causes – the U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty, and a broad construction of the Alien Tort Statute.

A ruling that politically motivated attacks are exempt from piracy would certainly add weight to conservative skepticism of the Law of the Sea Treaty. The root of this skepticism is a concern that the meaning of international legal instruments is actually quite uncertain, and unforeseen vagaries will later be used against the U.S., which will have no monopoly on interpreting the law that applies to it. The retort is that such fears are paranoid; the treaty is clear, by now well-worn, and pretty harmless.

Well if the piracy provisions – which have not been the ones causing conservative anxiety – are actually highly disputed in their meaning on basic definitional points, there may be more to worry about than previously thought. Lets say the meaning of “private ends” is in fact undefined, with both interpretations open. The U.S.’s ability to treat maritime terrorists as international pirates will thus probably depend on what a bunch of professors and European foreign ministry lawyers say “private ends” means.

Again, if this is true of piracy – which has been in the Treaty for sixty years, and in international law for hundreds, imagine what other unplumbed surprises lay in the UNCLOS’s depths. Why by a pig in a poke? One cam imagine the fun at Senate hearings on UNCLOS after terrorists are ruled immune from [...]

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Regulatory Takings and “Lochnerism”: An Observation

It is often argued that regulatory takings doctrine is a form of “Lochnerism” and a revival of “substantive due process” constraints on economic regulation.  So, for instance, in his Dolan v. Tigard dissent, Justice Stevens traces the history of the doctrine to the Lochner period and finds the roots of regulatory takings doctrine in late-19th century substantive due process.

The so called “regulatory takings” doctrine . . . has an obvious kinship with the line of substantive due process cases that Lochner exemplified. Besides having similar ancestry, both doctrines are potentially open ended sources of judicial power to invalidate state economic regulations that Members of this Court view as unwise or unfair.

As a historical matter, Justice Stevens was correct that the first decisions obligating states to compensate  landowners for the taking private property for public use  (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad v. Chicago) and holding that the regulation of land use could require compensation if it “goes too far” (Pennsylvania Coal v. Mahon) date from the so-called “Lochner era.”  Curiously enough, the authors of these two opinions are, respectively, Justice John Marshall Harlan and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Why is this curious?  Because Justices Harlan and Holmes wrote the two dissenting opinions in Lochner.  So while contemporary commentators and critics may see regulatory takings doctrine as Lochnerism reborn.  Those who challenged Lochner at the time apparently saw things differently. [...]

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Yes, Sea Shepherd Engages in Piracy Under International Law

The Ninth Circuit was right to reverse the district court in the Sea Shepherd Case. The district court erroneously read “private ends” as excluding political ends like saving the whales. But the “private ends” requirement has never been understood to inject a subjective element to the piracy inquiry. It does not turn on whether the actor’s motives are pecuniary, political, operating under mistake of fact, or simply insane. Private ends are those ends held by private parties. The converse is also true: a government-owned ship in government service cannot commit piracy even if it attacks another vessel solely to enrich itself.

The rule is clear as both a matter of customary international law and the Law of the Sea Convention. On the latter score, the “private” ends requirement of the UNCLOS Art. 101 (which defines piracy) has to be read in conjunction with Art. 102, which distinguishes between “warship” or “government ship” – which cannot commit piracy while under governmental control and “private” ships, which are the kind that can be pirates. Thus “private” clearly means “non-governmental,” rather than selfish or not selfish.

The strongest refutation of the district court’s reasoning are opinions finding that attacks by rebel or guerilla groups that had not become recognized belligerents (i.e., de facto state actors) constitute mere piracy. See The Ambrose Light, 25 F. 408
(D.C. N.Y. 1885). Indeed, Confederate privateers would have been treated as pirates had it not been for a political (i.e., executive) decision not to do so. Obviously no such decision has been made in favor of Sea Shepard, which is essentially waging “private war” – or rather, “private Whale Wars.”

Indeed, Judge Story in The Marianna Flora (1822) made it clear there not be any intent for pecuniary gain:

[N]or do I conceive that it is indispensable

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The Sea Shepherd Decision: Sailing Ahead of Kiobel

The Ninth Circuit’s reversal of a district court decision ruling that actions by Sea Shepherd against Japanese whaling vessels could not constitute piracy because they did not satisfy the “private ends” requirement is obviously correct. (Institute of Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepard Conservation Society.) The district court’s analysis always struck me as strange and disconnected with piracy practice and caselaw. In this post, I’ll discuss the relevance of the decision to Alien Tort Statute issues, and in a subsequent one, I’ll examine the merits.

The Japanese whalers brought suit under the ATS, and the case is notable in two other ways relevant to the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Kiobel. First, it shows that the ATS can have both liberal and conservative uses, as I’ve noted before. It is true that there have been few conservative uses, but there weren’t any uses of any kind for 200 years, until Filartiga inspired a wave of human rights litigation. Thus a ruling narrowing the ATS in Kiobel cannot be simply interpreted as “conservative” decision.

Second, it shows that even the narrowest possible ruling in Kiobel – finding the statute to not apply on foreign territory or create corporate liability – cannot be said to close the door to all ATS litigation, or read the statute so narrowly as to make it a dead letter. This case, for example, would clearly survive the narrowest possible post-Sosa view of the ATS.

I am less sure that the ATS applies to piracy at all, though the Ninth Circuit was safe to assume this, as it was assumed by both parties and the Supreme Court in Sosa. I have criticized that that assumption:

It is not clear that Sosa was right about Congress’s belief that the ATS would be a vehicle for piracy suits. Although

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Whale Wars Update: Ninth Circuit Calls Sea Shepherd Actions “Piracy”

Here is the opening of Judge Kozinski’s opinion, reversing a lower court ruling and issuing a preliminary injunction in an Alien Tort Statute suit against the Sea Shepherd’s attempts to interfere with Japanese whaling vessels on the high seas:

You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.

Is this right? Paging our very own Eugene Kontorovich, a leading authority on piracy law!  Over at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku and Kevin Jon Heller discuss the opinion.  Myself, I plan to re-watch South Park. [...]

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Eminent domain and the antitrust state action doctrine

Speaking of the antitrust state action doctrine (see my previous posting here and my major blog post here), Scott Weese recently published an article called Eminent Need: Proposing a Market Participant Exception for Municipal Parker Immunity in the Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal. Here’s his abstract:

A township is using its eminent domain powers to become a monopsony in the real estate market for the designated area. The township’s monopsony power is then being exploited to create a price-fixing scheme that would violate antitrust laws, either as a per se violation under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, or as a monopolizing or attempted monopolizing offense under Section 2. Under the Sherman Act, affected residents could force the township to appraise each property individually and pay the full market value; if the township refused, they would be subject to the treble damage penalty, erasing any possible advantage of abusing its monopsony power. As the law currently stands, however, a township is immune from suit under the Parker v. Brown decision and its progeny. This Article will use the real-life example of Mount Holly, New Jersey, and the story of one affected resident to illustrate the need for a market participant exception to Parker immunity, such that when a municipality is participating in the market for a good itself, as opposed to merely regulating that market, the Sherman Act should apply.

This paper doesn’t argue that eminent domain itself violates the Sherman Act; eminent domain is, after all, explicitly blessed by the Fifth Amendment as long as just compensation is paid. Rather, it argues against a practice where a municipality announces a fixed (and non-negotiable) price that it’ll pay for all houses in an area, which is below most of the residents’ reservation prices. Why don’t these [...]

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My New Afterword: The Libertarian Middle Way

I just uploaded to SSRN a paper, The Libertarian Middle Way, that will be the Afterword to a symposium on “Libertarianism and the Law” to be published in the Chapman Law Review.

Libertarianism is sometimes portrayed as radical and even extreme. In this Aferword, I explain why libertarianism, though it may be radical, is far from extreme in comparison with its principal alternatives: the social justice of the Left or legal moralism of the Right. Social justice posits that everyone should get a certain amount of stuff; legal moralism posits that everyone should act in a certain way. But because there is no consensus about how much stuff each person should have or how exactly everyone should act, both of these comprehensive approaches are recipes for societal conflict. And the legal institutions that are necessary to implement each vision must be highly intrusive and coercive. In contrast, libertarianism is far more modest: it stipulates only that individuals may do what they please with what is theirs, requiring a legal system merely to define the proper jurisdiction of each person over their rightfully acquired property. I explain how the basic insight of libertarianism is rooted in the spirit of toleration that was the classical liberal solution to the socially destructive religious wars. Like Westphalian political “sovereigns” who are to leave each other in peace and not to interfere with each other’s domestic affairs, classical liberalism posited the sovereignty of individuals to pursue the good life peacefully within their own jurisdictions, free from outside interference, provided they do not infringe upon the like jurisdictions of other sovereign individuals. I conclude by explaining how libertarianism contributes to the private law that defines the contours of these individual jurisdictions, and the public law that is supposed to confine government to its

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