Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 45, more commonly known as “American Laws for American Courts,” or ALAC. It prohibits the use of any foreign law in the state’s courts, specifically in family cases that involve marriage or parent-child relationship matters.
One of the bill’s co-authors Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) thanked the governor, who signed HB 45 on Wednesday. Leach called the law “vitally important bill to further safeguard and protect our Constitutional rights!” In the last legislative session, Leach authored the comparable yet unsuccessful ALAC measure, House Bill 562.
HB 45 lead author Representative Dan Flynn (R-Canton) also introduced similar past legislation that failed. In a recent press release, Flynn noted foreign law is often applied in Texas cases concerning divorce orders, child support, property settlements and sometime even, spouses enter into agreements to have foreign law applied to their disputes.
“My colleagues and I here at the Texas Legislature want to make sure Texas judges never apply foreign law in Texas courts in violation of constitutional rights and the public policy of our state,” said Flynn.
Under HB 45, Texas and U.S. law supersede all other laws. It prevents state judges from applying any foreign law because, in doing so, it infringes upon U.S. and Texas constitutional rights. The bill shields litigants in family law cases “against violations of constitutional rights and public policy in the application of foreign law” under the U.S. and Texas Constitutions, federal and judicial precedent, the Texas Family Code, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, among other protections.
HB 45 makes no mention of any particular foreign nation, religion, or cultural practice but clarifies that “foreign law” means a rule, law, or code from a jurisdiction outside of the United States and it shall not override U.S and Texas law or their respective constitutions. It specifies that a “foreign judgment” means a ruling from a court, tribunal, or administrative adjudicator outside U.S. states and territories. The bill underscores that, in the event of any legal conflicts, “federal or state law prevails.”
In January 2015, Breitbart Texas confirmed in a report that an Islamic tribunal using Sharia law operated in Dallas. Dr. Taher El-badawi, one of four attorneys who called themselves “judges” and not arbitrators, claimed the tribunal and its decisions were “voluntary.” El-badawi said the tribunal operated under Sharia as a form of “non-binding dispute resolution” in civil disputes in family and business cases but also admitted that when in conflict between Sharia and Texas law, “we follow Sharia law.”
In December 2015, Flynn asked Attorney General Ken Paxton “the extent to which current law authorizes or requires a judge of a state court to apply foreign law in certain family law disputes.” Last year, Paxton ruled in a seven-page nonbinding legal opinion: “Under Texas law, a court is not required in family law disputes to enforce a foreign law if enforcement would be contrary to Texas public policy or if it would violate a party’s basic right to due process.” However, according to the Attorney General’s office, Paxton’s opinion only constituted a written interpretation of existing law and did not decide any law.
The Texas chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called HB 45 anti-Sharia law and lobbied for the state’s Muslim community to oppose the bill. “We believe it prevents Muslims from practicing their faith in areas such as Islamic marriage, divorce, funeral procedures, and civil agreements, they said in a press release.
HB 45 requires the Texas Supreme Court adopt its rules by January 1, 2018. The law goes into effect on September 1, making Texas the 12th state to enact ALAC. The other states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Washington, according to ACT for America.
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