Defending the Constitution. And Garlic. (Quinn Rowan)

| Quinn Rowan | 9 July 2012 | Manhattan, United States |

Two weeks ago, I stood in front of an American flag, raised my right hand and, repeating the words spoken to me by a highly decorated federal court judge, swore to “defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America.” As an intern at the U.S. Court of International Trade, standing beneath the Great Seal of the United States, I felt both bewildered and honored to be a defender of the Constitution. This is especially true after spending the previous month inching through Erwin Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law treatise in preparation for my final exam.

The U.S. Court of International Trade’s building is simple and modern: all square and glass. Unlike the traditional buildings that surround the Federal Plaza, including City Hall and the mammoth Manhattan Municipal Building, it lacks both Corinthian columns and courthouse steps. However, I was reminded of our federal building status during my intern orientation, which included instructions on how to use gas masks in the case of a biohazard. During the first week, I also managed to hit a hidden panic button that (almost) every clerk has under her desk in the case of emergency attack by a terrorist or what was aptly described to the interns as “a shooter.”

Admittedly, the judges of the U.S. Court of International Trade are less threatened than judges of the Southern District of New York, who may handle more contentious issues. In general, the CIT handles antidumping and countervailing duty cases; it addresses the competition of foreign imports on our domestic economy by reviewing the effect on U.S. domestic industries and the appropriate classification of those imports under the Department of Commerce’s antidumping tariff margins. In addition, the CIT handles TAA, or Trade Adjustment Assistance cases, whereby workers who have been laid off because of foreign import competition may seek compensation for their losses.

The judges of the U.S. Court of International Trade are Article III judges under the Constitution. This means that they are appointed for life by the President and approved by the Senate. Within the Court, each judge’s chambers is an island – judges employ their own clerks, keep their own schedule, and even decorate. I find each judge’s interior decorating choices an immense curiosity, like getting a sneak peek into your professor’s living room. Our chambers evokes stoic legality: large brown mahogany desks, tall windows overlooking downtown New York City, and a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf housing identical volumes of the Federal Supplement (think Warholian legal pop art).

I spent the first weeks reading about garlic. I learned that the seemingly simple importation of Chinese garlic into the U.S. involves a lot more idiosyncrasies than first meets the eye. Garlic imports from (what the U.S. considers) non-market economies like China take into account the specific diameter of the garlic bulb (an identifying factor), the cost of irrigation (or not, arguably, if you get water from a nearby river), the cost of labor, and the shipping costs to the U.S. In reading these cases, I felt like (1) I needed to check the origin of my store-bought garlic bulbs, (2) I needed to learn how garlic grows and (3) I would never underestimate the impact of foreign garlic (or any foreign product) on U.S. industries.

During one of my very first meetings with my judge, she informed me that she liked to learn as much as possible about each particular industry when reviewing cases. So, in the garlic case, she likes to know how garlic is cultivated, what kind of work it entails, what the farms look like, how it is packaged and how it is shipped. I have found that within the judge’s advice lies a very important lesson, and one that is especially helpful in the area of international trade and implicit in the lawyer’s ethos: educate yourself. In this case, it is most helpful to evaluate every aspect of the garlic’s distribution. I continue to read and evaluate the garlic case for procedural issues while also tackling other projects. In the coming weeks, I look forward to absorbing as much federal judge wisdom as possible.

Over and out.


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