This seminar explores the use of international human rights strategies to advance social justice lawyering in the United States. In advocacy on issues ranging from racial disparities in the criminal justice system to access to healthcare, U.S. lawyers are increasingly using the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and Inter-American Human Rights System, drawing on international human rights and comparative foreign law in litigation in U.S. courts, and engaging in broader advocacy such as documentation, organizing, and education. They find that a human rights framework provides new and cross-cutting strategies and highlights the interdependence of rights. Indeed, the human rights framework is having a profound impact on social justice lawyering in the United States.
This seminar contextualizes and explores the growing movement to incorporate international human rights strategies into U.S. social justice lawyering while preparing students to thoughtfully engage these tools in their own practice of law. We begin the semester by exploring the historical context of the contemporary U.S. human rights movement and developing an understanding of the sources of human rights in U.S. law. We then examine the ways in which advocates have sought, in recent years, to incorporate human rights discourse and practice into their domestic efforts to advance rights defense and promotion in general, and institutional responses to those efforts. The seminar explores litigation efforts, as well as non-litigation strategies, including engaging UN mechanisms and mobilizing grassroots communities. Through course materials, discussion, and guest speakers, we investigate the promise of domestic human rights strategies, along with the challenges and limitations. Many of the examples considered in readings and in discussion draw on advocacy related to economic and social rights, as well as work to advance racial justice in the United States.