Scholarship on custom and law has largely focused on the creation and enforcement of informal rules, demonstrating and in some cases endorsing the existence of "order without law." But creating and enforcing rules are only two of the three functions of governance, corresponding roughly with what in other contexts are called the legislative and executive branches. The third function—adjudication—has not played such a prominent role in the scholarly literature on informal governance. As one leading scholar puts it: "Custom has no constitution or judges." But if customs can be created and enforced by nonstate actors, why should scholars assume that formal (that is, noncustomary) courts are the only institutions that do or should adjudicate those customs?

This Essay seeks to describe and emphasize the role of customary adjudication, the third branch of customary governance. In doing so, it has three main goals: first, to argue that customary governance can be understood in terms of the same three functions familiar to students of formal governance; second, to deliver a preliminary and tentative account of the third of these branches; and finally, to suggest that existing scholarship on custom and law has given comparatively little attention to the functions and forms of customary adjudication. If successful, those contributions should set the stage for future descriptive and normative work.

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