Takeaway: The globalization of the world in economics, travel and relationships require the US courts to grapple with international law.
I am fascinated with the court system. Several years ago I read extensively about the Supreme Court and its history and current makeup. After hearing a couple interviews with Breyer about this book I was interested, in part because I know that Breyer has made it part of his mission to work toward the international training of judges.
This is a technical legal book. Breyer is making a case and (as I understand it) legal cases are largely made through understanding of precedent and understanding the legal language of the relevant law. I listened to the audiobook, which is well narrated by Breyer and feels like a constitutional law class (in a good way.)
In a 12 chapter book, Breyer spends the first 9 chapters charting how the US court system has reached our current place. The first four chapters are historical view of how the courts have understood their role during war.
The next two chapters are about how American law has stood outside the US through international commerce regulation and US laws on international Torts and Human Rights.
The next three chapters are on US roles in understanding treaties with regard to child custody, investment and treaties and how that impact US legal obligations toward those
It is only at this point that Breyer even brings up the controversy of US courts interacting with foreign legal decisions. And by this point is fairly clear that US courts have no choice but to attempt to make some investigation into international law as part of their role as US judges.
I think Breyer has largely made the case that interaction is necessary. He suggests that the only thing that will happen if courts are hindered from interacting with outside legal world is that our own legal decisions will lack the improvement of understanding different perspectives on similar situations. He thinks this is true because that is the history. I think the stronger point is that through interaction, US exports its own legal theory and strengthens the rule of law outside the US.
The final portion of the book are a few additional thoughts on how judges can facilitate international relations.
Like much other political dialogue I think Breyer and his critics are largely speaking past one another. I tend to be persuaded by Breyer, who I believe is largely making a practical point about the globalization of the rule of law. His critics are largely making a theoretical point about how they believe that the law should work. Their point makes sense intellectually, but practically it is less persuasive. As Breyer points out the courts have been forced to interact with the world because of globalization and international issues coming up in their local courts. And the problems that critics complain about (that US law will be decided by US judges incorporating international law standards without legislative approval) does not have many real examples. Fortunately, the very nature of the court system is that bad decisions can be corrected (although that often takes time).
If nothing else, this is a helpful inside look at the court system and how law is molded by its interaction with the courts.