Thursday, October 28, 2004

O'Connor extols role of international law

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor extolled Wednesday the growing role of international law in U.S. courts, saying judges would be negligent if they disregarded its importance in a post-September 11 world of heightened tensions.

The article itself is not overly interesting, but the comments by O'Connor are fascinating. Historically, American courts have essentially ignored International law as a shaper of US law. But it has been a steadily increasing influence. It's interesting to see a sitting Supreme Court Justice make that point so clearly.

The article references the Court's taking of the juevenile capital punishment cases this term. One of the interesting thing about those cases is that multiple 'friend of the court' briefs from international governments and international legal organizations. The United States stood alone with Iran, Qutar and Afghanistan in legally allowing the execution of juevenile criminals - but all three of those countries have recently repealed those law. That's right - we're currently alone in the world in juevenile execution.

Capital punishment in the United States is currently Constitutional because the 8th Amendment's prohibition of 'cruel and unusual punishment' is defined by the "evolving standards of decency" in a "maturing society". The Court is now indicating that these standards may be influenced or defined by a 'world-view' of decency - not just what is decent within lines on a map.

This kind of news doesn't make headlines, but it shapes our society for generations.

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