Sunday, April 24, 2005

Can Money Trump Article II?

Although the U.S. has signed the Law of the Sea Treaty, the U.S. Senate has not yet ratified it and substantial conservative opposition to the treaty continues to loom (as I noted here). Interestingly, the Bush Administration is seeking congressional appropriations for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Seabed Disputes Chamber of that Tribunal, even though the U.S. does not have any obligations to support those tribunals until the U.S. ratifies and accedes to the treaty. In other words, the Bush Administration is asking Congress to spend U.S. taxpayer money on international oganizations to which the U.S. does not even belong.

There are two possible explanations for this, one which is interesting as a political matter and the other which is interesting as a legal matter.

(1) The Bush Administration is confident that it will get Senate ratification of the treaty this year, and is prudently seeking appropriations to fund tribunals to which the U.S. will soon belong.

(2) The Bush Administration is prepared to act and participate in the Law of the Sea Treaty system, including its dispute resolution systems, even without Senate ratification. After all, any appropriations for the Law of the Sea tribunals would have to be approved, pursuant to Article I, by both houses of Congress and signed by the President into law. Would appropriating the funds for the tribunal qualify as Congressional approval for the U.S. to participate in the Law of the Sea, whether or not the Senate ever ratifies the treaty?

There is some precedent for bypassing the Senate in the approval of trade agreements, but never in the case of a treaty which has already been submitted to the Senate. Still, as a practical matter, if the Senate does not ever consider the Law of the Sea treaty, the Bush Administration has the constitutional authority to commit the U.S. to adhere to the Law of the Sea Treaty as a matter of presidential policy. Moreover, if Congress approved funding for the various international tribunals, the Administration could probably claim authority to submit to the jurisdiction of those tribunals. In which case most of the point of Article II’s requirement of advice and consent by 2/3 of the Senate could be avoided.

Now I think this is almost certainly not the plan of the Bush administration, but it is an interesting legal question that I had never thought of before, and which might be exploited by future presidents.


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