UVA Law Symposium to Explore Conflicts in Global Legal Norms

February 2, 2012

Full Program

harold koh
Harold Hongju Koh

Harold Hongju Koh, the legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State, will headline a symposium on transnational law at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Koh, one of the country's leading experts in public and private international law, national security law and human rights, will deliver the keynote speech at the symposium, "Conflicts of Interest: Resolving Differences in Global Legal Norms," on Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. in Caplin Pavilion.

The conference – organized by the student-runVirginia Journal of International Law and the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law – will explore how to resolve conflicting legal norms found in the United States and abroad, particularly as domestic laws extend their reach beyond countries' borders.

"Although domestic and foreign legal norms have always interacted, the particular issues that will be addressed during our 2012 symposium have yet to be given significant attention in legal scholarship," said third-year law student Zach Torres-Fowler, managing editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law. "The topics selected for the event not only piqued our interests, but were especially timely given international legal developments."

Koh will offer an insider's glimpse at how the federal government addresses conflicts between domestic and foreign laws, Torres-Fowler said.

"Not only is Mr. Koh recognized as one of the pre-eminent scholars in the field of international law, but through his current position as the legal adviser to the State Department, he is able to provide valuable insight into the interplay between domestic U.S. law and transnational legal norms," he said.

President Obama nominated Koh to his current position in March 2009, and he was confirmed by the Senate in June 2009. A former dean of Yale Law School and now on leave as a professor there, Koh previously served in the State Department during the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

In addition to Koh's talk, the symposium will feature a number of panel discussions on topics such as international anti-bribery laws; libel "tourism," a practice in which plaintiffs shop their lawsuit to the country with the most advantageous libel laws; and the U.S. federal courts' deference – or lack thereof – to the decisions of foreign courts (full schedule below).

The event is open to the public; parking will be available in the Law School's D-2 lots on the day of the symposium.

Friday, Feb. 10

All events are located in Caplin Pavilion unless noted. 
Full Program

9-10 a.m.
Keynote Speech 
Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State
10-11:20 a.m.
Panel I: Jurisdictional Conflicts of International Anti-Bribery Laws
The recent enactment of the U.K. Bribery Act and other anti-bribery statutes in countries around the world raises questions about how enforcement agencies should interact in order to increase efficiency and limit over-deterrence. Are there reforms that could be instituted to curb multiple prosecutions of a single defendant? How instructive are the previous debates concerning the conflicting norms between domestic and foreign antitrust regimes? Should a principle similar to double jeopardy apply to limit multiple enforcement actions of anti-bribery laws? How should deferred prosecution agreements be treated across jurisdictions? 


  • Richard N. Dean, partner, Baker & McKenzie
  • Elizabeth K. Spahn, professor of law, New England School of Law
  • Paul B. Stephan, John C. Jeffries, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Law, UVA School of Law
  • Moderator: John C. Harrison, James Madison Distinguished Professor of Law, UVA School of Law
11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m.
Panel II: Shopping for Libel?
Libel tourism — the practice of pursuing libel suits in selective foreign jurisdictions with plaintiff-friendly laws — has exploded in recent years, prompting a response by the U.S. Congress through the enactment of the Free Speech Protection Act of 2010. But while many questions regarding the enforcement of libel tourism judgments in the United States have been resolved by the new law, a number of residual issues remain. Most concerning is that libel tourism still carries the very real threat of deterring certain forms of speech, even in the United States. Are there other avenues the U.S. Congress could pursue to limit libel tourism? How proactive should the United States be in attempting to prevent this form of forum shopping? Are there any gray areas within the Free Speech Protection Act of 2010 that make its application less than straightforward?


  • David A. Anderson, Fred & Emily Marshall Wulff Centennial Chair in Law, University of Texas School of Law
  • Bruce D. Brown, partner, Baker & Hostetler
  • Mark D. Rosen, professor of law, Chicago-Kent College of Law
  • Moderator: Leslie Kendrick, associate professor of law, UVA School of Law
12:50-2 p.m.
Moderator and Panelist Luncheon (Stone Dining Room; invited guests)

2:10-3:30 p.m.
Panel III: Sovereign Equality of Nations in the Federal Courts
The U.S. federal courts frequently apply legal doctrines such as the Act of State doctrine and the doctrine of foreign sovereign immunity, which call for deference to the decisions of sovereign governments. In other instances, the U.S. federal courts are far more willing to question and evaluate sovereign decisions under the doctrine of forum non conveniens and when deciding whether to enforce a foreign court's judgments. The potential whipsaw effect caused by these varying standards has been apparent in cases such as Aguinda v. Texaco, Inc., in which a group of Ecuadorian plaintiffs sought massive damages for an environmental tort that occurred allegedly at the hands of Chevron. Given the inconsistent approach taken by the U.S. courts in evaluating foreign judicial systems, how should domestic laws treat foreign sovereign governments and institutions? Should the federal courts be more deferential towards the concept of the "sovereign equality of nations" in order to apply a more even treatment of foreign institutions, or is there another solution to this problem? Also, what repercussions might be expected from the ongoing Aguinda v. Texaco, Inc. litigation and other alien tort statute suits?


  • Roger P. Alford, professor of law, Notre Dame Law School
  • Donald Earl Childress III, associate professor of law, Pepperdine University School of Law
  • Peter B. Rutledge, professor of law, University of Georgia School of Law
  • Moderator: Kenneth Anderson, professor of law, American University Washington College of Law
3:30-3:40 p.m.
Closing Remarks
3:40-5 p.m.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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