Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sovereignty conference at University of Texas Law School

Last weekend I was at a fabulous conference on sovereignty at the University of Texas Law School, co-convened by UT professor Sandy Levinson (editor of the Required Reading collection of essays, Torture [my blog comments here], and University of Siena/UT professor Francesco Francioni. If you weren't invited, you should be very jealous indeed! Intellectually, academically, socially, it was a great meeting. I learned a great deal about the range of the concept - including areas I, as an international law type, had never been exposed to, Indian tribal law, for example, from folks such as Karen Engle and Gerald Torres, both at UT. But the conference also went beyond public law into such utterly crucial topics as the WTO appellate panels and the construction of a transnational bankruptcy law. The participation of colleagues and friends from Siena and elsewhere in Europe was crucial to a lively and intelligent discussion.

I came away from the conference more convinced than ever, as an unabashed supporter of US democratic sovereignty, that the erosion of US sovereignty, if it happens, will happen because conservatives will cede more and more power to economic bodies, with consequent erosions of political sovereignty. I am a determined free trader - on both moral and economic grounds - it would seem to me, for example, bad economic policy as well as morally dubious to deny free trade to Central America, for example, by failing to pass CAFTA. But I am also a democratic sovereigntist, and it has to be recognized - not slid under the rug - that the preservation of democracy is not the same as extending the efficiencies of the common market. One can easily come at the expense of the other.

There was also a lively discussion of the use of foreign law in US courts, with Dean Alex Aleinikoff of Georgetown (how does a dean find time for this kind of serious academic work?) asking the very practical question of nay-sayers like me, well, isn't the horse already out of the barn? Isn't this stuff here to stay, one way or another? I'm not so sure. Sarah Cleveland of the UT faculty pointed out in her presentation how much international/foreign law has traditionally been found in US jurisprudence and suggested the practice was not exactly new. Again, I have my doubts this is precisely the issue, but I'll save that for another post.

Philip Bobbitt, of UT law school and author of the indispensable Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, hosted us all at his lovely villa in Austin for dinner. And bbq for us out-of-towners at the Salt Lick. So, as they say, we learned a lot, and a good time was had by all. Special thanks to Sandy Levinson for organizing the meeting.

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