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Samuel Alito on Foreign Policy

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Donít look to foreign law for civil rights interpretation

I donít think that foreign law is helpful in interpreting the Constitution. Our Constitution does two basic things: It sets out the structure of our government and it protects fundamental rights. The structure of our government is unique to our country, and so I donít think that looking to decisions of constitutional courts in other countries is very helpful.

As for the protection of individual rights, I think that we should look to our own Constitution and our own precedents. Our country has been the leader in protecting individual rights. We have our own law. We have our own traditions.

There are other legal issues that come up in which I think itís legitimate to look to foreign law. For example, if a question comes up concerning the interpretation of a treaty thatís been entered into by many countries, I donít see anything wrong with seeing the way the treaty has been interpreted in other countries.

Source: Sam Alito Senate Confirmation Hearings , Jan 10, 2006

Vienna Convention treaty not binding on US courts.

Justice Alito joined the Court's decision on MEDELLIN v. TEXAS on Mar 25, 2008:

After his conviction for murder, Mexican citizen Jose Medellin argued on appeal that police should have complied with the Vienna Convention and asked if he wanted his consulate notified of his arrest. Texas courts held that Medellin should have made this argument before trial. Separately, the UN's International Court of Justice heard a case involving Medellin, brought by Mexico against the US, on failure to comply with the Convention. The ICJ held that Texas courts must provide Medellin with hearings on the issue.

HELD: Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, & Alito

The Vienna Convention was not "self-executing" but required further federal law for it to be binding upon US courts. The ICJ decision, further, was not binding on domestic courts since the country's obligations
  1. was only to defend the case, not abide by an ICJ judgment, and
  2. under the UN charter was only to "undertake to comply" with ICJ decisions.
Mexico was the party before the ICJ, not Medellin, and he gained no personal rights from the ICJ ruling. Pres. Bush wrote that state courts should give effect to the Convention did not bind those courts, because the Constitution does not grant him this power without Senate consent.

CONCURRED: Stevens concurs

The language of the UN Charter about a nation's obligation to heed an ICJ decision is too vague to be binding upon domestic courts.

DISSENT: Filed by Breyer; joined by Souter & Ginsburg

Standards for self-execution cannot be made clear in multilateral treaties since each country has its legal traditions for treaties. However, since the Vienna convention concerns an individual right AND the Supremacy Clause subjugates domestic law to treaties AND the ICJ asked Texas courts to hold a hearing on a legal issue AND the President favors this and Congress does not oppose it, the Supreme Court ought to enforce the ICJ decision.
Source: Supreme Court case 08-MEDELL argued on Oct 10, 2007

Other Justices on Foreign Policy: Samuel Alito on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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David Souter
Sandra Day O'Connor
William Rehnquist
John Paul Stevens

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Page last updated: Jul 11, 2013