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Comments on Shany’s “No Longer a Weak Department of Power?”

Published on June 11, 2009        Author: 

 From July 2009, Professor Laurence Helfer will be the Harry R. Chadwick, Jr. Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law. His publications include: “Islands of Effective International Adjudication: Constructing an Intellectual Property Rule of Law in the Andean Community”, (2009) 103 Am. J. Int’l L. 1 (with Karen Alter and Florencia Guerzovich); and  Why States Create International Tribunals: A Response to Professors Posner and Yoo,” 93 California Law Review 899 (2005) (with Anne-Marie Slaughter)

 Yuval Shany is a leading international law scholar of international courts and tribunals.  His many publications, including two books in Oxford University Press’s International Courts and Tribunals Series, have literally mapped the field’s coordinates.  His work has explored both the horizontal connections among the burgeoning number of international adjudication mechanisms and vertical relations between international judges and their national colleagues.

 In his recent article, No Longer a Weak Department of Power? Reflects on the Emergence of a New International Judiciary, Professor Shany provides a clear-eyed and succinct overview of changes “in the ethos underlying the operation of international courts” that are the result of an increase in the number of such courts and an expansion of their authority.  Whereas the ground norm that once informed international adjudication was dispute resolution, Professor Shany argues that the new international judiciary emphasizes different values-”the advancement of specific normative and institutional goals,” the maintenance of subject-specific international regimes, and “strengthening the rule of law.”  After describing these “new ethoi,” No Longer a Weak Department of Power? provides a brief tour of the contemporary international judicial landscape, including its peaks (such as the adjudication of international trade disputes and the role of national courts in applying international law) and its valleys (jurisdictional and normative conflicts and compliance problems).

 In this comment, I first highlight what I see as the principal contributions of Professor Shany’s  article.  I then discuss one small ambiguity in the article concerning whether international courts can or should resolve “high politics” and “high profile” disputes, such as those involving the use of force and terrorism.  I conclude by arguing for a more empirically-grounded approach to the study of international courts and tribunals, an approach that includes paying greater attention to the distinctive characteristics of the many regional and sub-regional courts outside of Europe whose increasing activity has been ignored by most scholars.

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