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10/12/2017

New Book: "Supreme Law of the Land?", edited by Gregory Fox et al.
Michael Ramsey

Recently published: Supreme Law of the Land?: Debating the Contemporary Effects of Treaties within the United States Legal System (Gregory H. Fox, Paul R. Dubinsky and Brad R. Roth, eds., Cambridge University Press 2017).  Here is the book description from Amazon:

How do treaties function in the American legal system? This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the current status of treaties in American law. Its ten chapters examine major areas of change in treaty law in recent decades, including treaty interpretation, federalism, self-execution, treaty implementing legislation, treaty form, and judicial barriers to treaty enforcement. The book also includes two in-depth case studies: one on the effectiveness of treaties in the regulation of armed conflict and one on the role of a resurgent federalism in complicating US efforts to ratify and implement treaties in private international law. Each chapter asks whether the treaty rules of the 1987 Third Restatement of Foreign Relations Law accurately reflect today's judicial, executive, and legislative practices. This volume is original and provocative, a useful desk companion for judges and practicing lawyers, and an engaging read for the general reader and graduate students.

This is a great overview of the development of the U.S. constitutional law of treaties from the founding to the modern era, presented as a series of essays by leading foreign relations scholars (and one by me).  There is much of originalist interest, both in assessing the Constitution's original meaning and early practice and in outlining the way we got from there to here.  I'm honored to be part of it.

My contribution is "The Treaty and Its Rivals: Making International Agreements in U.S. Law and Practice" (SSRN version available here).  As the title suggests, it traces the rise of alternatives to treaties (the "rivals"), such as executive agreements, congressional-executive agreements, and nonbinding agreements, and relates them to the Constitution's original design.  Here is the abstract:

This Chapter describes the evolution of the constitutional power to make international agreements in U.S. law. Reading only the Constitution’s text, one might suppose the constitutional regime for making international agreements in the United States to be quite straightforward. Article II, Section 2 states that the President has power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur. Article VI provides that all treaties made under the authority of the United States are the supreme law of the land. No provision of the Constitution’s text directly mentions any power by the U.S. government to enter into any sort of international agreement apart from the “treaties” made according to Article II, Section 2 and having the force of Article VI.

For over 100 years, the regime that appears on the face of the text roughly corresponded with reality. The next 100 years, however, transformed U.S. practice regarding international agreement-making to the extent that the Constitution’s text and analyses based upon it wholly fail to capture what actually exists in modern practice. Conventionally, this transformation is described as the rise of two alternate forms of agreements: (1) the sole executive agreement, done by the unilateral authority of the president in areas of the president’s particular constitutional authority (whatever those may be); and (2) the congressional-executive agreement, done with the approval of majorities of both Houses of Congress, and which is said to be fully interchangeable with the Article II, Section 2 treaty as a constitutional procedure. 

While accurate in some respects, even this conventional description fails to capture the complexity of modern agreement-making in the United States, and recent trends have contributed to the difficulty of providing a coherent legal and practical account. First, non-treaty agreements have diverse and sometimes unclear sources of authority. In some cases, the president negotiates the agreement and submits it for approval by majorities of both Houses of Congress. For most agreements, the president makes them without any after-the-fact approval from Congress or the Senate. Within this latter category, the president may claim various sources of authority to enter into non-treaty agreements: express statutory authorization from Congress in advance; implied authority from Congress; express or implied authority from a prior treaty; or independent constitutional authority. As a practical matter, it may not always be easy – or even possible – to distinguish among some of these categories. Increasingly, the president enters into international agreements on the basis of informal and often uncertain sources of authority, with uncertain legal effects. 

Nonetheless, treaties remain well represented among important agreements, at least in some areas (although making that assessment seems challenging), despite their numerical decline. Likewise, agreements approved after-the-fact by Congress, although relatively small in number, include some of the United States’ most important recent commitments in the area of international trade. Agreements made by the president alone range from trivial diplomatic arrangements to ones of great consequence. There is no satisfactory explanation for why some agreements are made in one way and some in others. This Chapter attempts to sort out the history and modern trends in U.S. agreement making, with a view toward providing a foundation for a constitutional reassessment.

All the chapters are outstanding but for those interested in developing an originalist understanding of treaty law, I particularly recommend "Self-Execution" by Ingrid Wuerth (Vanderbilt); "Treaties, Federalism, and the Contested Legacy of Missouri v. Holland" by Margaret McGuinness (St. John's) and  "Judicial Barriers to Enforcement of Treaties" by Roger Alford (Notre Dame).

Note: This post has been edited to reflect that Gregory Fox is the first-named editor of the book.