Sosa, Federal Question Jurisdiction, and Historical Fidelity

In his paper “International Human Rights in American Courts,” Judge Fletcher concludes that Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain“has left us with more questions than answers.” Sosaattempted to adapt certain principles belonging to the “general law” to a post-Eriepositivistic conception of common law while maintaining fidelity to certain historical expectations. “[I]t would be unreasonable,” the Court thought, “to assume that the First Congress would have expected federal courts to lose all capacity to recognize enforceable international norms simply because the common law might lose some metaphysical cachet on the road to modern realism.” The Court was unwilling, however, out of concern for assuming a more expansive judicial role than the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) justified, to hold that federal courts may hear any claim for a violation of customary international law. In an effort to maintain fidelity to the First Congress’s expectations, the Court held in Sosa“that federal courts should not recognize private claims under federal common law for violations of any international law norm with less definite content and acceptance among civilized nations than the historical paradigms familiar when [the ATS] was enacted”—specifically, “violation of safe conducts, infringement of the rights of ambassadors, and piracy.”

I will discuss here a problem that Judge Fletcher rightly observes Sosa did not discuss—“the subject matter jurisdiction problem.” In particular, what constitutional power does Congress have to authorize federal court jurisdiction over claims based on customary international law?

Does the Structure of the Franchise Tax Matter?

In Delaware’s Compensation, I analyzed the relationship between the structure of Delaware’s franchise tax and Delaware’s incentives for producing corporate law.

Conventional wisdom, supported by theory and evidence, has it that the franchise tax plays an important role in shaping Delaware corporate law. Under the widely held account, Delaware offers a product and charges a price, the franchise tax, which creates incentives for the state to attract incorporations. Some argue that this system results in a race to the bottom, while others argue that it results in a race to the top. But no one argues that the tax is unimportant to Delaware, and evidence demonstrates the tax’s significance. The literature, however, fails to address Delaware tax structure, and how such structure affects Delaware’s incentives. Delaware’s Compensation first submitted the view that if the tax matters, then the tax’s structure matters too.

Pleasant Grove v. Summum: Losing the Battle to Win the War

In February, the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in a case that represents the first step in a well calculated attack on the conservative wing’s efforts to conflate Establishment Clause doctrine with Free Speech analysis. The case, Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, pitted a Salt Lake City church headed by Summum Ra against the city of Pleasant Grove in a fight over monuments displayed in a public park. For over thirty years, a monument of the Ten Commandments—originally donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles—has stood in the city’s Pioneer Park. In 2003, and again in 2005, Summum asked Pleasant Grove also to display a monument dedicated to the “Seven Aphorisms of Summum” on park grounds. The city rejected Summum’s request, claiming that monuments in the park must have some significant connection to Pleasant Grove’s civic history. Summum, however, argued that, by opening Pioneer Park to privately donated monuments, the city has created a public forum for free expression purposes and cannot now discriminate against donations based on their content. In a forceful display of unanimity from a Court that might have fractured along a number of doctrinal lines, Summum lost—for now.