United States of America v. Palestine Liberation Organization
695 F. Supp. 1456 (S.D. N.Y. 1988)

  • The US signed the Headquarters Agreement with the United Nations. It said that Federal and State authorities shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the UN Headquarters of persons invited to the UN on official business.
    • So even countries that the US doesn't have diplomatic relations with can still send diplomats to the UN.
  • Later, the UN invited the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to join the UN As an observer.
    • The PLO set up an office in New York.
  • Later, the US passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).
    • The ATA made it illegal for terrorist organizations to set up offices in the US. It specifically mentioned the PLO as a terrorist organization.
  • The UN passed a resolution (UNGA 42/229A) saying that the US was under obligation to enable the PLO to maintain its office in New York.
  • The US went to Federal Court to get an injunction allowing them to close the PLO office.
  • The Federal Appellate Court found that Statutes and Treaties are both the 'supreme law of the land' and that the Founders did not provide an order of precedence or guidance on how to resolve conflicts between the two.
  • The Court looked to the Chinese Exclusion Case (130 U.S. 581 (1889)) and found that where a treaty is irreconcilable with a later enacted Statute and Congress has clearly evinced an intent to supercede the treaty by enacting the Statute does the later enacted Statute take precedence.
    • In this case, the Court found that the ATA did not mention the Headquarters Agreement, nor the specific PLO office in New York. Therefore, there was no clear intent on the part of Congress to violate the treaty.
    • The Court suggested that if Congress were to go back and amend the law to mention the PLO office in New York specifically, then it would supercede the treaty.
  • The basic point of this case is that a Statute can only supercede a treaty if it is very clear that Congress intended to supercede the treaty by enacting the Statute.
    • The general rule is that when a treaty conflicts with a Federal Statute, then the one that was executed last is the one that governs. But you can't infer a conflict, it has to be explicit.