A treaty can have the same force and effect of law domestically as does a statute. However, both are subject to the U.S. Constitution. When a treaty and a statute are in conflict with one another, the one enacted or created “last in time,” meaning most recently, controls. Where a treaty, for various reasons, cannot be enforced in domestic courts, that treaty still has the force and effect of international law.
Some treaties are self-executing while others are not. If self-executing, the treaty creates rights and duties without the need for implementing legislation and is typically enforceable in the U.S. legal system. A non-self-executing treaty must be implemented by statute. No consensus exists as to which is which, or whether a treaty is presumed to be one over the other. In fact, in 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee changed the format of its reports on pending treaties to include in its draft resolution the self- or non-self-executing nature of treaty provisions. While this helps the dilemma going forward, it does not affect prior agreements.
In the 1998 case of Breard v. Greene, the United States was placed at odds with the International Court of Justice when an international agreement and a subsequently enacted U.S. statute conflicted with one another. The United States Supreme Court had to determine what rights and obligations were superior.
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A decade later, in Medellin v. Texas, the Supreme Court took a look at the obligation (or lack thereof) — of American states to obey a judgment of the World Court on the legal rights of foreign nationals arrested and prosecuted for crimes in those states.
- Breard v. Greene, 523 U.S. 371 (1998) (Links to an external site.)
- Medellin v. Texas, 522 U.S. 491 (2008) (Links to an external site.)
Brief & Analyze
Before attempting your case briefs, you may want to review the example given in: Methodology for Legal Analysis (PDF). (Links to an external site.)Each brief should typically be no more than one typed page (two if double-spaced). Remember to use your own words in summarizing the case as this helps to assure you really understand what the case is about.
The brief for each case should contain the case name and citation, the facts, the issue, the Court’s holding, and the Court’s reasoning. The reasoning will be broken down into the majority opinion and then any concurrences or dissents (though these may be more concise than the majority’s rationale).
After briefing both cases, write a paragraph or two stating how the Court’s interpretation of international obligations versus domestic laws has evolved. Elaborate upon the implications of the Court’s holdings and reasoning for future cases where international agreements and domestic laws conflict.