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LAPA Seminar

Ralf Michaels, LAPA Fellow; Duke University School of Law

U.S. Courts as World Courts - Practice, Theory, Legitimacy

November 23, 2009, 4:30-6 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with LAPA Fellow Ralf Michaels, Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law and director of its Center for International and Comparative Law, who will present "U.S. Courts as World Courts – Practice, Theory, Legitimacy."  His commentator will be Stephen Macedo, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Kerstetter Room, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet. 

Professor Michaels writes: US Courts are world courts. For victims of human rights violations, of global cartels, of climate change, US courts have become their forum of choice, even if neither the defendants nor the events they complain about have particular relations to the United States. Before we criticize this tendency, we need a theory of the world events negotiated in such litigation, about the characteristics of law under conditions of globalization, and about the role of US courts within globalized law. I present such a theory based on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of world society and global law. Based on this, I argue that US courts play the role of world courts because they are, for the time being, functionally superior in this role vis-ŕ-vis both supranational courts and the domestic courts in other countries. In order to play this role legitimately, however, they must be able to become truly global courts.

Ralf Michaels is Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law and director of its Center for International and Comparative Law. He is the author of a book on comparative private law and of numerous articles and book chapters published in the United States and in Europe, and is co-editor of two volumes on conflict of laws. In the fall of 2005, he was the Lloyd Cutler Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.  Michaels received a doctorate in law at the University of Passau and an LLM degree from Cambridge University. Prior to his appointment at Duke, he held posts at Harvard Law School and at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Law and Private International Law in Hamburg. Michaels' main research and teaching interests are in comparative law, conflict of laws, and legal theory, all of which he wants to combine into a general theory of globalized law. Currently, this involves two big research projects. The project that he will pursue at Princeton is an analysis of the role of domestic courts, especially US courts, as world courts. The other project, pursued jointly with Profs. Annelise Riles, Cornell, and Karen Knop, University of Toronto, takes private international law as the centerpiece of a general theory of global law.

Stephen Macedo writes and teaches on political theory, ethics, public policy, and law, especially on topics related to liberalism, democracy and citizenship, diversity and civic education, religion and politics, and the family and sexuality. His current research concerns immigration and social justice, constitutional democracy in the US, and democracy and international institutions. From 2001-2009, he was Director of the University Center for Human Values. As founding director of Princeton's Program in Law and Public Affairs (1999-2001), he chaired the Princeton Project on Universal Jurisdiction, helped formulate the Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction, and edited Universal Jurisdiction: International Courts and the Prosecution of Serious Crimes Under International Law ( U. of Pennsylvania, 2004). As vice president of the American Political Science Association he was first chair of its standing committee on Civic Education and Engagement and principal co-author of Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It (Brookings, 2005). His other books include Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy (Harvard U. Press, 2000); and Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism (Oxford U. Press, 1990). He is co-author and co-editor of American Constitutional Interpretation, with W. F. Murphy, J. E. Fleming, and S. A. Barber (Foundation Press, fourth edition 2008).