As the US Trade Rep (USTR) under the Obama administration has made it clear that it has no intention
of allowing Congress to ratify ACTA, but instead believes it can sign it unilaterally, we've finally seen someone in Congress notice that this appears to be unconstitutional
. Senator Wyden has sent President Obama a letter asking some basic questions. From the letter:
Although the USTR insists that current U.S. law, and its application, conform to these standards, there are concerns that the agreement may work to restrain the U.S. from changing such rules and practices. As you know, the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter binding international agreements on matters under Congress's plenary powers, including the Article I powers to regulate foreign commerce and protect intellectual property. Yet, through ACTA and without your clarification, the USTR looks to be claiming the authority to do just that.
The letter also responds to the repeated claims of the USTR that it can have this signed as an executive agreement because it doesn't require changes to US law, by pointing out that's not the rule
The statement by the USTR confuses the issue by conflating two separate stages of the process required for binding the U.S. to international agreements: entry and implementation. It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law. But, regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law, a point that is contested with respect to ACTA, the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress' authority, absent congressional approval.
Wyden details the situations under which the US can take part in binding international agreements, and points out that: "ACTA appears to be none of these." He then asks President Obama to make clear that ACTA creates no international obligations for the US:
Mr. President, if you allow the USTR to express your assent to ACTA, then the agreement can bind the U.S. under international law even without Congress' consent, because international law, not U.S. law, determines the binding effect of international agreements. According to many international law scholars, customary international law recognizes the ability of the chief executive of a country to bind its nation to an international agreement regardless of domestic legal requirements.
I request that as a condition of the U.S. putting forward any official instrument that accepts the terms of ACTA that you formally declare that ACTA does not create any international obligations for the U.S. -- that ACTA is not binding. If you are unwilling or unable to make such a clarification, it is imperative that your administration provide the Congress, and the public, with a legal rationale for why ACTA should not be considered by Congress, and work with us to ensure that we reach a common understanding of the proper way for the U.S. to proceed with ACTA. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.