Report shows states enacting foreign law bans could hurt economy, end up in hot water

Jessica M. Karmasek May 17, 2013, 12:30pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- States enacting foreign law bans -- driven by anti-Muslim sentiments -- could end up hurting the U.S. economy and worse, land them in legal hot water, according to a report released this week.

On Thursday, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for American Progress released a report highlighting the unintended consequences of foreign law bans.

These bans have gained momentum in recent months, morphing from restrictions on Islamic religious laws and customs into broader bans on foreign, international and religious laws in U.S. courts.

According to the report, over the last two years, lawmakers in 32 states have introduced and debated such bills.

Five states -- Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arizona -- have already enacted foreign law bans.

Just last week, the Missouri Legislature sent a similar measure to its governor for signature.

And at least four more states -- Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and Iowa -- are poised to pass foreign law bans this year and next, according to the report.

"Supporters of foreign law bans openly advocate an anti-Islamic agenda," said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center.

"In addition to spreading fear about Muslims and their faith, they also create legal uncertainties for many American families and businesses and jeopardize how American courts have applied foreign and international law for centuries."

Matthew Duss, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said such bans are a "solution in search of a problem."

"Proponents of foreign law bans have completely failed to show that sharia or foreign law pose a threat to the American legal system," he said. "The bans send a clear message that states are unreceptive to foreign businesses and individuals, especially Muslims and other minority faiths."

Currently, courts use international and foreign law without much fanfare in ordinary cases, such as where the dispute involves a right under a treaty, or when the parties choose the law of another country to govern a business dispute.

But many of the bans seem to require judges to reject any foreign law or judgment that comes from a country that does not protect rights in the same way the United States does -- even if the laws they are being asked to apply do not raise any rights concerns.

"Foreign law bans end up creating confusion about how courts should treat marriages, divorces and premarital agreements with religious or foreign origins," said Amos Toh, fellow at the Brennan Center.

"They could also complicate international commercial transactions, limit the bargaining ability of American businesses, and dissuade foreign parties from conducting business in the United States."

The Brennan Center and the Center for American Progress argue in their report that state lawmakers should reject and repeal the bans, instead of discriminating against religious groups and creating "unnecessary complications" for courts, families and U.S. businesses.

To read the full 60-page report, click here.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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