Chief Justice Roberts visited KU

Last night, CJ Roberts gave a lecture through the business school. It was fairly disappointing, honestly. He read his talk, and he talked about the Louisiana Purchase. He also spent a long time on the mechanics of the Supreme Court. I understand that the audience was made up of many lay people and that he couldn’t actually talk about many of the things we really wanted to hear about (e.g., Heller), but I guess I expected a little more.

Today, however, he had a Q&A session for law students. I got there 1 1/2 hours early, so I was first in line. He actually walked in while I was in line, and he said hi. It was quite the moment. I got to sit in the front row, and the session was just great. People asked all sorts of things, from what he considers when deciding a case to his view on the Constitution (although that question was also asked last night by Adam Davis and received by the audience with resounding applause) to advice for aspiring advocates.

I asked the second question. I asked him about the Medellin case. In that one, which came out just over a month ago, he wrote the opinion for five justices (the conservative ones), in which the Court held that an ICJ decision (that a certain treaty required the government to notify the Mexican government of the charging of Mexican nationals) was not binding on the individual states, and so the habeas petitions filed by 51 Mexican nationals were rightfully denied. In the analysis, the majority looked to the text of the treaty, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and the US Constitution, and found that ICJ decisions were not self-executing treaties and could not be binding unless the Senate ratified them. My question was whether he would advise countries developing independent judiciaries to include something in their constitutions that would make ICJ decisions binding on the individual parts of the country. He didn’t directly answer this, saying that it was up to the country and he couldn’t advise them one way or the other, but he also said that if the country decides it wants to be bound by a bunch of judges far away, it’s that country’s own perogative. That seems clear enough to me.

So then he taught the constitutional law class, which I unfortunately could not attend. I heard it was great. But then, in the afternoon, he and four judges who sit in Kansas (two 10th Circuit judges, a District of Kansas judge, and a Kansas Supreme Court justice) judged the final round of our in-house moot court competition. There were probably 100 students there, a number of professors, a handful of local judges, and lawyers from the firm (Foulston Siefkin) that sponsors the prizes for the in-house competition. The student advocates were excellent. The bench was really hot. The justices usually didn’t let the advocates speak for more than 15 or 20 seconds without interrupting them. The few times they didn’t interrupt, the advocates were kind of thrown off. But everyone did a really great job of advocating, especially under such intimidating circumstances. All of the judges/justices-for-the-moment gushed about how wonderful the advocates were, and Judge Tacha even said they did as well if not better than the final round in the national competition, whose problem we used. I was thrilled for the team that won – Dani and I were rooting for them from the beginning – but I was still a little bummed that it wasn’t the two of us up there.

After the competition, there was a reception in the informal commons. Lots of men in suits (and not just federal marshalls) were trying to get close to Roberts, but I managed to get pretty close to him. And then he turned towards me! And he shook my hand and thanked me for my question! It was a very proud moment for me, even if it was just what the situation required.

I know CJ Roberts is a conservative judge, and I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions (including the opinion he wrote for Medellin), but he’s brilliant, his credentials are absolutely outstanding, and he’s kind of dreamy. I’ve been joking about swooning. Ah, men with power. That is probably slightly inappropriate for a legal blog, but oh well.

It’s been an exciting day and a half. (And today was the last day of classes, which made it even better.)


I’ll be attending two conferences in the next month and a half, and I’m really excited about them. The one I’m going to this weekend is the Rebellious Lawyering conference at Yale. It’s a public interest law conference, and there are two lectures on immigration. And then I’m going to the ABA Section of International Law spring meeting in New York City. I don’t think I even need to talk about how great it’s going to be. There are public international law lectures and “young lawyer/law student” lectures, which are of particular interest to me, but then there are also corporate law and trades/customs law lectures, which could possibly be interesting too.

universal jurisdiction

No citations this time, just ruminations. I read a story about how some nations are using universal jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes. Universal jurisdiction is an awkward concept to me. It allows a nation with absolutely no connection to a crime to prosecute the perpetrator of that crime. The nation has no interest in it except a moral one. While morality does have a place in law, and especially in criminal law, it cannot be the sole reason for bringing someone to justice. There should be some other connection. While universal jurisdiction might be used to prosecute only the most egregious of war crimes, it sets an alarming precedent. If a homosexual were to travel to a nation where sodomy was criminalized and the law was enforced, even if the person did not engage in sex while there, the government could theoretically prosecute by using universal jurisdiction.

The point of international law is to create treaties between nations. Nations have to agree to be bound (however, if a law is so fundamental as to be jus cogens, then every nation is bound regardless of whether or not the nation agrees). Hence, for individuals to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, that individual’s nation must be a party to the Rome Treaty. Beyond that, there are the tribunals set up by the UN to prosecute individuals for crimes committed during conflicts in certain areas, like Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. Granted, universal jurisdiction only comes into play if the individual cannot be brought to justice under the Rome Treaty or under one of the special tribunals, but if the UN is unwilling to create a tribunal, why should individual nations be able to prosecute those people?

This may be rather incoherent. I apologize.