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NEW YORK — As judges more often consider the laws of other countries, lawyers will need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the legal world outside the United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said Wednesday. “How are we going to learn about these things?” Breyer said of other nations’ laws. “That’s why it’s a cooperative effort. Because the lawyers have to tell us about it.” Breyer was one of several speakers during Wednesday’s panel discussion, entitled “Comparing French and American judicial approaches to international legal constraints,” at Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The event, which also included France’s leading judge, concluded a two-day Franco-American legal conference at the law school. While some Americans feel uncomfortable turning to other countries for reasoning in the legal arena, Breyer said it has gotten increasingly important to do that. “We have to apply these laws with knowledge of what’s happening elsewhere in the world,” he said. Breyer said that in a recent case in which he said state officials such as sheriffs should be able to enforce federal law, he referred to a decision from Switzerland to bolster his argument. In another case involving sovereign immunity, he said he relied on a ruling by a Paris appeals court to help him determine that sovereign immunity is about whether you are sovereign now, not whether you were sovereign at some point. And while he acknowledged Zimbabwe is not viewed as an example for human rights, he said he referenced a finding from the African nation in a death-row appeals case involving cruel and unusual punishment. Breyer acknowledged it is impossible for judges to know all foreign laws, adding he happened to know about the Swiss case and his law clerk came across the Paris ruling. But he said that’s why it is important for lawyers to bring up such arguments and for law schools to educate students about international laws. Breyer, 68, was nominated to the nation’s highest court by President Bill Clinton and took his seat in 1994. On several occasions on Wednesday, the San Francisco native addressed the panel’s French speakers in their native tongue. The two-hour panel drew about 250 students, lawyers, academics and other audience members to the school’s Jacob Burns Moot Court Room. Breyer was joined by the Hon. Guy Canivet, who, as president of the Court of Cassation, is France’s highest judge. Speaking through a translator, Canivet said that when deciding which countries’ laws to consider, judges often rely on courts’ reputations and experience. For example, when ruling on civil liberties cases, the most experienced courts have been those in the United States and Canada as well as the European Court of Human Rights, he said.

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