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The Enforcement of International Law Through Municipal Law in the

United States



The theory of international law upon which this study is based may be briefly summarized in a few statements. With the present system of world organization, effective enforcement of law is only possible through action by state administrative and judicial organs. International law, therefore, can not be effectively enforced except over persons subject to the jurisdiction of the state. We may therefore conclude that international law can be effectively enforced only in so far as it prescribes conduct for persons and subordinate agencies of government.

The essential feature of international law is not that it lays down rules of conduct for states, but that it holds states responsible for the conduct of persons. International law, therefore, should be regarded as the law binding the members, both persons and states, of a “supra-national” state or a “community of nations', the enforcement of which is delegated to the organs of the states composing it. The German Constitution, with its system of imperial law, binding on individuals but enforced largely through the administrative officers and courts of the component states, furnishes an illustration of such a system.

The recognition of this fact, that international law reaches down to individuals, is, therefore, important. International law can become effective through state enforcement in proportion as it lays down obligations for persons, rather than for states. Much of it now consists of rules prescribed for persons and officers of government and the greater part of it can be described in terms of such rules because the state can only act through human agencies. When we say that a state is obliged to do or abstain from doing certain acts, we can only mean that its chief executive officer, or its legislature, or its courts are bound to observe certain rules, which, by proper constitutional checks, it is possible for municipal law to enforce.

With this conception, that international law prescribes rules of conduct for persons and public officers and imposes obligations upon states, to enforce them, we shall consider the rules of municipal law enforced in the United States in pursuance of this international obligation. The distinction between a legal and a political method of

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