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Law as Geopolitics: US Judicial Territory and Transnational Economic Governance

Authors: Shaina Potts*, University of California-Los Angeles
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Legal Geography
Keywords: Political economy, law, territory, empire
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The extension of domestic US judicial authority to govern transnational economic relations involving foreign governments beyond official US borders has been an important but largely overlooked component of the post-World War II international economic order, as well as of the reterritorialization of US state power. A key strategy for achieving the extension of what I conceptualize as “judicial territory” has been redefining common law dichotomies in order: 1) to recode activity once considered public, political, and in the executive domain as private, commercial, non-political, and judicial; and 2) to recode “intangible” activity (e.g. debts or IP rights) once considered foreign as domestic. Both strategies have been closely entangled with the broader rise of neoliberal techno-politics, financialization and the “knowledge” economy. At the same time, each particular moment in the expansion of US judicial territory has occurred in an ad hoc way in response to acute economic and geopolitical challenges to US interests. The overall effect has been to unilaterally extend US state space and restrict the economic sovereignty of other countries, in ways that have benefitted US and transnational capital and underwritten the extraction of resources into the United States, especially from the Global South.

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