Cuba in a Global Context: International Relations, Internationalism, and Transnationalism

By Catherine Krull | Go to book overview

4
The Role of the Courts in Shaping U.S. Policy toward Cuba

STANLEY J. MURPHY

Although legislative and executive actions provide the first definition of U.S. national policy toward Cuba, the courts are often where the ultimate contours of that policy are drawn. Virtually every statute, regulation, or executive action related to Cuba leads to the filing of a lawsuit or lawsuits, and the decisions in those cases have a substantial impact on the nature of the relationship between the two countries. In their decisions on cases related to Cuba, U.S. courts often appear to be more deferential to political judgments than they are in other litigation. When relations with Cuba are at issue, routine legal actions become complicated. Established legal principles are no longer quite so settled, controlling case precedent becomes less important, and previously firm legal standards show a newfound flexibility.

The effect of Cuba on the U.S. courts became apparent after 1959, survived the end of the Cold War, and continues today. In the new era of the Cuban revolution a succession of U.S. presidents and congresses, along with a variety of state and local agencies in Florida, propounded a volatile, evolving, and sometimes self-contradictory series of statutes, regulations, and executive actions regarding Cuba. Starting with legal challenges to restrictions on travel to Cuba, the influence has evolved to the point of having a bearing even on cases dealing with matters of purely U.S. domestic law. From the selection of elementary school library books to child custody decisions, from criminal trials to intellectual property protection—if Cuba becomes part of the issue, U.S. courts are apt to behave strangely. Although not always determining the outcome of a case, the Cuba factor can influence both the arguments of the parties involved and the court’s analysis. In the process this factor may have an unintentional, lasting impact on broader areas of U.S. law in which the island neighbor is not an issue. The impact has been particularly unsettling in cases affecting the well-established constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to travel, to academic freedom, and to censorship-free access to information.

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