Stephen Breyer on Foreign Policy

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Clinton 1994)

Supreme Court can learn from foreign laws

Though foreign laws could never be binding on an American court, they were still worth examining. Foreign judges have problems that often, more and more, are similar to our own. They're dealing with texts that more and more protect basic human rights. If here I have a human being called a judge in a different country dealing with a similar problem, why don't I read what he says, if it's similar enough? Maybe I'll learn something.
Source: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, "Swing Shift" , Sep 12, 2005

Treaty giving individual rights should bind US courts.

Justice Breyer wrote the dissent 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

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Foreign Policy.
  • Click here for a profile of Stephen Breyer.
  • Wiki Profile of Stephen Breyer.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by Stephen Breyer.
  • Click here for AmericansElect responses by Stephen Breyer.
  • Click here for MyOcracy responses by Stephen Breyer.
  • Click here for all excerpts for Stephen Breyer.
Other Justices on Foreign Policy: Stephen Breyer on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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

Party Platforms:
Democratic Platform
Green Platform
Libertarian Platform
Natural Law Platform
Reform Platform
Republican Platform
Tea Platform
Civil Rights
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Social Security
Tax Reform
Search for...

Page last updated: Jul 13, 2015