The federal courts are often accused of being too parochial, favoring U.S. parties over foreigners and U.S. law over relevant foreign or international law. According to what this Article terms the “parochial critique,” the courts’ U.S.-centrism generates unnecessary friction with allies, regulatory conflict, and access-to-justice gaps. This parochialism is assumed to reflect the preferences of individual judges: persuade judges to like international law and transnational cases better, the standard story goes, and the courts will reach more cosmopolitan results.
This Article challenges that assumption. I argue instead that parochial doctrines can develop even in the absence of parochial judges. Our sometimes-parochial procedure may be the unintended result of decisionmaking pressures that mount over time within poorly designed doctrines. As such, it reflects not so much the personal views of individual judges but the limits of institutional capacity, the realities of behavioral decisionmaking, and the path dependence of the common law. This Article shows how open-ended decisionmaking in the midst of complexity encourages the use of heuristics that tend to emphasize the local, the familiar, and the concrete. These decisionmaking shortcuts, by disfavoring the foreign, put a parochial thumb on the scale—but that tilt is not limited to individual cases. Rather, it is locked in and amplified through the accumulation of precedent, as later judges rely on existing decisions to resolve new cases. Over time, even judges with positive conceptions of international law and transnational order will find themselves, in applying these doctrines, consistently favoring U.S. litigants over foreigners and U.S. law over foreign or international law.
To explore this theory, this Article traces the evolution of four procedural doctrines: discovery of foreign evidence, forum non conveniens, service of process abroad, and the recognition of foreign judgments. The decisionmaking pressures outlined here can explain why the first two doctrines (framed as open-ended standards) are often criticized as parochial while the latter two (framed in more rule-like terms) are not. And if that account is at least plausible, it supports the primary claim of this Article: the occasional parochialism of our courts does not necessarily reflect the personal prejudices of our judges. If so, then avoiding the costs of parochialism will require structural, not just personal, solutions.