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University of Baltimore Law Review

Abstract

In The Paquete Habana, decided in 1900, the United States Supreme Court adopted the doctrine that coastal fishing vessels are exempt from capture as prize of war. The Court held that the exemption was an established custom of international law, which—in the absence of a controlling executive or judicial decision—should be incorporated into the corpus of our common law. The Paquete Habana influenced the development of positive rules of international law that expanded the class of civilian vessels that are exempt from capture. Recently, the lower federal courts have begun to utilize The Paquete Habana as precedent for the incorporation of international law other than that governing the conduct of naval warfare. In this article, the author analyzes the decision and its historical antecedents and examines the applicability of The Paquete Habana principle to twentieth century naval conflicts involving the United States. The author contends that the overriding importance of The Paquete Habana is its role as a monument to the continuing vitality of international law.

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