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Business Groups Shut Down Anti-Muslim Bill In Virginia

Last month, a bill intended to combat the nearly non-existent problem of courts citing Sharia law was cruising to passage in the Virginia House of Delegates. For the moment, however, the bill appears to be dead after numerous business groups stepped forward to oppose it:

One bill, HB825 from Republican Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County, would have prohibited judges and state administrators from using any legal code established outside the United States to make decisions. […]

But when legislators started hearing from business groups concerned about how the proposal could affect their dealings abroad and foreign companies located here, they sent the bill back to committee.

“I had some business concerns,” said Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, after making the motion Thursday to kick back the bill. “It’s just something that needs some work.”

It’s unfortunate, if far from unexpected, that similar protests from religious groups, both Islamic and otherwise, were not enough to kill the bill. Nevertheless, the emergence of business opposition to these sorts of bills is a very important development.

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The first wave of anti-Islamic bills introduced in state legislatures specifically named “Sharia” or Islamic law as off limits to state court judges. Such laws are unambiguously unconstitutional, as the First Amendment forbids any law that exists for the sole purpose of lashing out at a particular faith. Del. Marshall’s bill short circuits this constitutional limit because it does not expressly call out something unique to a particular faith. Instead, it paints with a broad brush by forbidding citations to any legal code that’s not established in the United States.

The problem with this tactic, however, is that there are all kinds of legitimate reasons why a judge may need to rely on foreign legal sources in order to render a decision. Most significantly, contracts between U.S. and foreign companies frequently require any disputes between them to be resolved under a foreign nation’s law. Needless to say, business don’t like it when lawmakers take away an important tool that they need to conduct international business just to push back against some baseless fantasy about judges lining up to replace the Constitution with Islamic law.

So the punchline is that anti-Islamic lawmakers are now in a bind. They can either push a narrow law targeting Islam, and have that law be struck down in the courts, or they can broaden the law, and wind up pushing something with spillover effects that will greatly annoy powerful interest groups.

Or, alternatively, they could simply abandon their anti-Islamic crusade altogether, and devote their attention solving problems that actually exist.