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Law in the global village

Despite our nation fighting wars on at least three fronts (Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan), U.S. news outlets, for the most part, have focused much of this past year on domestic issues such as the debt ceiling, President Obama’s jobs bill, and the Republican presidential primary.

This week has been a break from the usual milieu with attention centered on international issues such the Palestinian bid for statehood and Iran’s release of the two imprisoned American hikers. Noting the change, I began to wonder about the relationship between law and international affairs; namely, whether our legal system is being affected by international players.

While I believe different nations require different approaches because of  differing cultures and beliefs, I also acknowledge that to deny globalism’s rise is unwise. As our technologies increase, so does the world’s interdependence. In a sense, we are becoming a global village.

There are many examples of legal globalism: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice, to name a few. While these organizations do not confine the United States to compulsory jurisdiction, the United States appears to moving towards it.

The first steps  are being seen in the U.S. Supreme Court. The court has begun to cite landmark international decisions and laws in its majority opinions.  For example, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the majority supported its holding to ban the execution of the mentally retarded by pointing out that within the “world community,” such a practice is for the most part condemned. Of further interest, this argument originated in an amicus brief filed by the European Union.

In the much discussed Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law. In doing so, the court cited a similar case decided in 1981 by the European Court of Human Rights, Dudgeon v. The United Kingdom.

In Dudgeon, that court held that Northern Ireland’s criminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults was a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. While the Supreme Court did not cite Article 8, it did cite the European court. And, in doing so the Supreme Court reinforced the principle that law is evolving, and globally applicable.

As technology increases and we become more interdependent, the world will continue to transition from a globe to global village. Under this scenario, it will be difficult to argue against having one set of laws to preside over our interdependent economic, educational ,and political institutions.