Yesterday I flew down to Washington, DC for a variety of reasons, one of which was to take in a day of the 99th annual meeting for the American Society for International Law, of which I'm a student member.
I got there in time for the 12:30pm presentation on "Globalization, Development, and Intellectual Property: New Challenges and New Opportunities." This is an area of huge interest for me, and what I worked on last summer. There's a tremendous amount of tension between the advocated interests of developed and developing countries. The former tend to have well-developed industries with lots of IP that seek to have strong international enforcement of their perceived rights. The latter are more preoccupied with making sure the basic needs of its people can be met. Often they require access to the knowledge works of developed countries in order to accomplish this. Whether it's affordable drugs, or affordable textbooks so that its students can become educated, these needs are often stymied by international IP agreements like TRIPS, which were developed by and are most suited for developed countries without these types of grave problems. In fact these agreements often exacerbate the challenges faced by developing countries, forcing them to either go without access to essential knowledge, or to resort to piracy. Which under these agreements can lead to sanctions against them further limiting their ability to develop.
On the panel was Francis Gurry and Deborah Halbert. The latter is a political scientist interested in how international IP intertwines with local politics. The former is an official for WIPO, who spoke about some of WIPO's current work. I should say, because I imagine that someday I might need to work with him, that Mr. Gurry himself seems to be a friendly, genial gentleman. I'm nonetheless critical of much of what goes on at WIPO and feel that it doesn't sufficiently serve the needs of developing countries (or of developed ones, for that matter.) There's a lot more to discuss on this topic than I wish to go into at this point – even the presentation itself was at limited depth due to limited time. But I did take notes on what was said.
After the presentation I left the meeting briefly and went to visit the aforementioned employer from last summer. It was good to re-establish the connection, as I'd been out of touch since going back to school. It was a short meeting, but it involved a further discussion on the exact same issues as were raised during the presentation.
Then it was back on the metro to return to the ASIL meeting for the keynote speech, a presentation by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the role of international law in American jurisprudence. She was introduced by Condoleeza Rice.
My observations here are more on style than substance. Others have reported on what was said in more detail than I'm able (I wasn't able to take notes), and it might even end up on the C-SPAN website at some point.
But I wasn't impressed by Rice. She's a smooth talker, to be sure, although she still made certain errors, repeatedly. Like she kept calling the group the ACIL, not the ASIL, even though she got it right when she referred to us by the full name. Once I would never take issue with, but when it happened again I started to wonder if she's always this sloppy with names.
But what I was really struck with was what I perceived as an undercurrent of desperation her glossiness seemed to betray. It seemed like she had bet all her political capital on the wrong horse, and she knew it. It seemed like she craved the validation and legitimacy that this kind of crowd probably withheld from her superior. In her comments she made some very reasonable statements along the lines of why the countries like the US with its "rule of law" are better than those without it, except that it seemed like she realized that for everything she said was undesirable, someone could easily hold up a mirror to the US and wonder why we were trying to get away with it ourselves. She also, again repeatedly, referred to Justice Ginsberg as her "good and dear friend," (or something similar) but in a way that made me question the sincerity of the relationship. Again it seemed like a very deliberate seeking of validation from the crowd by holding up Ginsburg's friendship as an endorsement of her. It seemed very awkward and contrived, and not really appropriate to belabor so meticulously those two or three times she mentioned it. (Edit 4/6: But you don't have to take my word for it; judge for yourself.)
For her part, Ginsburg graciously accepted the introduction, but I was unable to discern any particular warmth in her social connection to Rice. Of course, this could also be because of her somewhat taciturn nature. Ginsburg's personality as represented through her demeanor is one that's extremely measured. She spoke with tremendous precision. No thoughts dripped from one to another; each one was clearly enunciated. I've also never heard someone speak so fully footnoted! No thought that wasn't hers wasn't completely cited in reference during the course of her speech. For anyone else I might have thought they were simply reading off a page, but her speaking style wasn't quite so clipped that I thought so. Rather, it seemed like this was the natural flow of her diction. She strikes me as a woman with tremendous intellectual gifts whose analytical training has so fully informed her personality it would be impossible for her to speak in any other way that might obfuscate the absolute clarity of her thinking.
I did tend to think though, as a rhetorical matter, that she wasn't persuasive enough. So even-handed was she in articulating the issues and perspectives involved with whether and to what extent US courts should recognize international law in their decisions that I don't think she won the day for her own opinion. However as a study of the matter it was thorough and complete, and her own perspective - generally, that it may be appropriate at times and so should not be preemptively precluded - was well justified.
Edit 4/7: Justice Ginsburg's transcript.