Monday, October 10, 2005

U.S. Senate Ratifies Three Possibly Meaningless Treaties

Lest it seems like the U.S. Senate is the graveyard of all treaties, it is worth noting that the U.S. Senate has recently ratified two conventions: the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism as well as a Protocol of Amendment to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures. The two conventions passed by division vote and the protocol won an 87 votes in support and none against.

None of these treaties are particularly controversial and none may be all that important, given that no newspaper has or will cover their ratification. Indeed, it is unclear what obligations these treaties impose that the U.S. does not already impose on itself. For instance, the U.S. has tacked on an "understanding" to the Transnational Organized Crime Convention that essentially limits the treaty's obligations to whatever is required under existing federal and state law. Here is the partial text of the reservation shielding state laws from any obligations under the treaty:

(1) The United States of America reserves the right to assume obligations under the Convention in a manner consistent with its fundamental principles of federalism, pursuant to which both federal and state criminal laws must be considered in relation to the conduct addressed in the Convention. U.S. federal criminal law, which regulates conduct based on its effect on interstate or foreign commerce, or another federal interest, serves as the principal legal regime within the United States for combating organized crime, and is broadly effective for this purpose. Federal criminal law does not apply in the rare case where such criminal conduct does not so involve interstate or foreign commerce, or another federal interest. There are a small number of conceivable situations involving such rare offenses of a purely local character where U.S. federal and state criminal law may not be entirely adequate to satisfy an obligation under the Convention. The United States of America therefore reserves to the obligations set forth in the Convention to the extent they address conduct which would fall within this narrow category of highly localized activity. This reservation does not affect in any respect the ability of the United States to provide international cooperation to other Parties as contemplated in the Convention.

Further, the Senate added that:

The United States of America declares that, in view of its federalism reservation, current United States law, including the laws of the States of the United States, fulfills the obligations of the Convention for the United States. Accordingly, the United States of America does not intend to enact new legislation to fulfill its obligations under the Convention.

So the signing and ratifying the treaty will not require the U.S. to in anyway alter its domestic laws. I don't have a problem with this, although it does make me wonder why it took four years from the treaty being signed to the time of its ratification...


Blogger t'su said...

Great title for possibly meaningless subject

10/11/2005 7:57 PM  
Blogger Duncan Hollis said...

Putting aside how much impact these treaties will have on existing US law, the federalism understanding for the TOC Convention is still noteworthy. For one thing, it was proposed by the Executive Branch, which you'd think would be the branch of the Fed. Gov't least sensitive to states rights' issues. Second, it's part of a more recent trend to move federalism issues outside the human rights ken (up until now, the federalism debates had largely occurred only in the human rights context). So, I'll go with "Possibly, but not Necessarily, Meaningless Treaties."

10/12/2005 12:54 PM  
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