Customary Domestic Law

Something that has bugged me since, literally, the first class of the very first International Law course I ever took, is the emphasis on “customary international law” as if it were a distinct phenomenon unique to the formation of international law.

It’s just not. CIL is a specific term for a general phenomenon that occurs at all levels of law making everywhere.

I was reminded very much of that today, while making an early morning excursion into the heart of the Snowpocolypse. I was allegedly “going to get milk for the coffee,” but we really were stocked up on supplies, and I just wanted the excuse to venture out onto the streets.

D.C. was beautiful and desolate and exactly how I imagine the end of the world will look. And the most striking thing was the utter disregard for the normal rules of daily urban life.

Pedestrians walked openly down major downtown streets. People walking dogs waited on the dead middle of K while their dog did its business, and people on skis slid their way across 14th and U. The roads were easier to traverse than the sidewalks, so everyone used them instead.

I passed two cars during my whole walk. One was a Hummer that was stuck in a snowbank and spinning its wheels, and I laughed. The other was a police cruiser, that skirted around me as I walked openly down the middle of 14th, and the policeman waved.

There is not a statute somewhere that says, ‘Hey, when there’s a blizzard, it’s actually okay to disregard traffic laws.’ What almost everyone outside did today was blatantly illegal, and forbidden, and subject to numerous penalties and fines and who knows what.

But under D.C. Customary Law, when the Snowpocolypse hits, you can do whatever the hell you want when you’re trying to make your way down the street. Everyone — from the pedestrians to the police force — simply intuitively knows this, and makes no effort to enforce any other rules, no matter what the written codes may say.


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