Every academic can name an article or two that they wish they had written, and for me the top of that list has always been occupied by Judge William Fletcher’s “The General Common Law and Section 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789: The Example of Marine Insurance.” Judge Fletcher’s essay is the best thing we have on the phenomenon of “general common law”—the law applied by both state and federal courts to commercial disputes before the regime ofSwift v. Tyson gave way to that of Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins. The general common law was a form of customary international law (“CIL”); hence, the nature of the general law regime and the precise sense in which Erie altered that regime lie at the heart of contemporary debates about enforcement of a different kind of customary law—international human rights principles—in U.S. courts. Commenting upon Judge Fletcher’s reading of Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the leading recent case on human rights claims under CIL, is thus a task that I approach with both great honor and some trepidation. Fortunately, our differences are less important than our areas of common ground.
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