El mundo es un pañuelo, a Spanish phrase that gives deep meaning to the increasing globalization of our world. Literally the phrase means the world is a handkerchief; figuratively it means the world is a small place. The world is a small place and getting smaller as the impact of international influence and trade on world economies continues to grow. And international courts are playing bigger roles in the adjudication of legal issues concerning human interactions across borders. One U.S. court that is increasing its impact in international litigation is the U.S. Court of International Trade.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the ability to establish the U.S. Customs Court. In 1890, Congress established a Board of General Appraisers under the auspices of the Treasury Department. Nine appraisers were nominated by the president to sit on this Board which was empowered with deciding controversies related to appraisals of imported goods and classifications of tariffs.
Congress continued increasing the judicial power of the Board and in 1908, it was granted authority to establish rules of evidence and procedure and it acquired the same powers as a U.S. Circuit Court in preserving order, compelling the attendance of witnesses, and the production of evidence, and in the punishing of contempt. Later, the Board acquired the same authorities in the U.S. District Courts. In 1926, an Act was passed that changed the name of the Board to the U.S. Customs Court. The Court’s composition, jurisdiction and powers remained the same.
Four years later, the Tariff Act of 1930 was enacted. This Act transferred administrative oversight of the court from the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice, as well as providing for other changes. In 1948, the Customs Court was incorporated under Title 28 of the United States Code, governing the Judiciary. In 1956, the Customs Court was declared a court established under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, governing U.S. Federal Courts. This meant that the judges were now appointed for life, no other significant change occurred.
Between the 1920’s and the 1970’s the scope of litigation involving customs and international trade grew and the then Customs Court did not have the jurisdictional capacity to handle the complexity of international trade litigation. The response to this dilemma culminated in the Customs Courts Act of 1980, enacted under Jimmy Carter. President Carter was quoted as stating that “This legislation, which contains many of the provisions proposed by the administration, creates a comprehensive system for judicial review of civil actions arising out of import transactions and Federal statutes affecting international trade. The bill enhances the importance and effectiveness of the new Court of International Trade, formerly the Customs Court. I am pleased to have signed this major judicial reform bill into law.”
The Act expanded the powers of the former U.S. Customs Court and changed the name of the court to the U.S. Court of International Trade, “USCIT”. It took into consideration the growing complexity of international trade litigation between various nations, individuals, and organizations. Additionally, it codified the procedure for nominating the nine judges. The judges are nominated by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, with no more than five of the nine members being from the same political party.
A case may be heard by one judge. However, according to the USCIT website, if a case challenges the constitutionality of a U.S. law, a Presidential proclamation, or an Executive order, or otherwise has broad and significant implications on U.S. law, the chief judge may assign the case to a three-judge panel. Examples of cases heard before the U.S. Court of International Trade include: protests filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, decisions regarding Trade Adjustment Assistance by the United States Department of Labor or United States Department of Agriculture, customs broker licensing, and disputes relating to determinations made by the United States International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration regarding anti-dumping and countervailing duties, import transactions mainly revenue from imports or tonnage; tariffs, duties, fees, or other taxes on the importation of merchandise. However, in cases involving antidumping and countervailing duties imposed on Canadian or Mexican merchandise, an interested party can request that the case be heard before a special panel organized under Chapter 19 of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Appeals from the USCIT’s decisions may be heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, located in Washington D.C. Further Appeals are presented to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The U.S. Court of International Trade has its own rules of procedure but for the most part they are patterned on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Court has nationwide subject matter jurisdiction over cases involving particular international trade and customs laws, including the classification and valuation of imported merchandise, customs duties and unfair import practices.
The Court of International Trade is located in New York City. Additionally, it has the authority to sit in other locations, including foreign countries. The USCIT is governed under various sections of Title 28 of the United States Code: Organization, sections 251 to 258; Jurisdiction, sections 1581 to 1585; and Procedures, sections 2631 to 2647. Visit the Court’s website at www.cit.uscourts.gov for more information.
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