Document Type


Publication Date



As Judge Messitte's essay demonstrates, recent references in Supreme Court decisions to non-U.S. legal materials have generated a great deal of controversy. Those who make such references say that doing so is no big deal. I have called the controversy a tempest in a teapot. My topic here is the disjuncture between the perception on one side that something important and troubling has happened - or, as I will argue, may be about to happen - and the perception on the other that there is nothing to be concerned about. After describing in Section I the practice that has given rise to the controversy, I examine in Section II one feature of the controversy that, I believe, has not yet been addressed in detail: The target of criticism is not really what Justices of the Supreme Court have done, but rather what they might do. I then argue that the fact that the target is an imagined practice rather than the real one is a clue to the nature of the controversy. The controversy, I conclude in Section III, is a skirmish in the ongoing culture wars over the courts. The claims made against and for references to non-U.S. law in constitutional interpretation ought to be analyzed as cultural artifacts rather than as arguments, that is, in terms of the reasons given against and for the practice.

Publication Citation

35 U. Balt. L. Rev. 299-312 (2006)