Missouri Governor Jay Nixon made the right call on Monday when he vetoed a bill that would have prevented courts from considering foreign law in their decisions. Governor Nixon should be praised for this action, which respects the principles enshrined in our Constitution as well as two hundred years of judicial precedent, and will protect Missourians from the unintended but very negative consequences of such a bill.
Proponents of the bill have claimed that we need it to protect ourselves from the encroachment of foreign laws that are not in line with the civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. But as Governor Nixon explained, “This legislation seeks to solve a problem that does not exist, while creating the very real problem of jeopardizing Missouri’s families’ ability to adopt children from foreign countries.” Such adoptions are often granted following decisions by foreign courts, and the legislation vetoed by the Governor would cast doubt upon the status of those foreign decisions. That’s why Missouri Lutheran Family and Children’s Services and other Missouri adoption groups joined the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, CAIR St. Louis, the Anti-Defamation League of Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois, and the Jewish Community Relations Council in actively opposing the legislation.
As the governor mentions, the bill is entirely unnecessary, as our courts have considered international and foreign law in their decision-making for more than two centuries, and in the words of the Supreme Court, “international law is part of our law.” And not only was the legislation unneeded, but it also would have undermined important protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions. For example, the bill would have prevented courts from considering all relevant sources of law, which raises serious concerns about the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Moreover, the bill’s sponsor cannot point to one example of Missouri courts improperly applying foreign law.
By vetoing legislation that would have prevented courts from considering foreign law, Governor Nixon stood up not only for the rights of adopted children and their families, but also for the values of our Constitution. Laws like the one vetoed by Governor Nixon do not protect our civil liberties; they damage the very constitutional values they claim to protect. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Center for American Progress documents the proliferation of foreign and international law bans, introduced in over 32 states which are often nothing but “thinly concealed attempt to inflame anti-Muslim attitudes.” The ACLU has fought these discriminatory and harmful initiatives around the country and we will remain vigilant in protecting constitutional rights of all people in America including the rights of all racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.