This article appears in the 2007 edition of The Sun’s annual Freshman Issue as “C.U. Law Center Bridges International Gap.”
At a first-ever international judicial conference on July 17, chief justices from Europe and the United States will congregate in Paris to dedicate the Cornell University Center for Documentation on American Law, which will contain American court decisions and law reviews from Cornell’s Law Library.
The 13,000-volume collection will be housed in France’s Court of Cassation, the highest court in the French judicial order. In addition to providing print sources, Cornell’s law librarians will also offer electronic assistance and training in online research.
“The creation of the center presupposes that you have a collection of American law, so we are shipping copies of … all our decisions, all the law reviews, like the Cornell Law Review, Harvard Law Review. If the French judges want to do research on American law they have the resources,” said Prof. Claire Germain, law, who is also the Edward Cornell Law Librarian.
The French and American legal systems have had long-standing differences, according to Germain, but the Center will support scholarship and cooperation between the two: “Functionally, the center will enable judges on the French court to research American law more efficiently and accurately. Symbolically, the center highlights the importance of French and American judges and lawyers understanding each other’s legal systems,” said Stewart J. Schwab, Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Law School.
The French system, based on civil law as are most European countries, focuses on a system of codes and court decisions, while the American system, based on common law and modeled after the English system, focuses on precedence and court decisions.
“These are two of the great legal regimes of the western world. In this era of globalization, legal systems need to work together to ensure justice and fairness,” Schwab said.
Both Germain and Schwab are currently collaborating with the French judges to meet the Court of Cassation’s needs. After speaking with them this past March, Germain shipped 90 cartons of books to Paris.
The creation of the center began February of this year, in response to the French judges’ desire for a collection of American law. Sir Basil Markesinis, a legal scholar at the University of London and former professor at Cornell, told the Law School about collection. The Cornell Law Library contains many duplicate copies of law books, a remnant of a time when the only access students had to court decisions were through print sources. Now that the information is also online, extra print copies are rarely used.
“We still need one copy but we do not need our copy two. … We wanted to make it available to people who would use it,” Germain said.
The dedication ceremony will take place the morning of an international judicial conference chaired by Lord Philips, chief justice of England and Wales. U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer will also be present. Both Germain and Schwab will represent the Cornell Law School.
“It’s just a happy … turn of events that these justices are getting together. … They are not coming just because of our law library collection … but [the French judges] said it would be great to dedicate this center on the day they were meeting for the conference,” Germain said.
In a letter to Schwab, the court’s First President Guy Canivet praised Cornell’s efforts in establishing the Center.
“[Cornell is] taking a pioneering decision, which is bound to have deep political and judicial and intellectual repercussions for which I not only congratulate you but also thank you, profoundly,” Canivet stated in a press release.