Human Rights in the United States – Foreword

Sarah H. Cleveland, Columbia Law School
Catherine Powell, Fordham University School of Law


In this foreword, Powell and Cleveland introduce a special volume celebrating one of a signature program of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute (HRI). As the founding director and current faculty co-director of HRI, they co-wrote this introduction to celebrate the first ten years of HRI’s progress – particularly its work to bridge the international law of human rights and the domestic law of constitutional rights.

While the United States played a leading role in the creation and development of modern international organizations and human rights law regimes and there has been a bi-partisan commitment to advancing human rights in U.S. foreign policy for many decades, it has been less consistent in promoting international standards guaranteeing human rights as part of U.S. domestic law and policy. The Human Rights Institute was a path-breaker in recognizing that human rights do not involve merely scholarship and activism regarding what happens “out there,” but that human rights are implicated in domestic U.S. policies as well. This goal of affirming human rights at home was part of Henkin’s holistic vision of human rights as protected through a fluid regime of national, sub-national, and international instruments. To Henkin, constitutions have been every bit as important as treaties. Human rights around the globe are typically protected through domestic law, and the U.S. Constitution and U.S. domestic statutes are no different. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution has a particularly intimate relationship to the international human rights movement, since U.S. constitutionalism featured centrally in the creation of the modern conception of human rights. Therefore, the “Human Rights in the United States” program was established as a way to create new models of social justice, among other ways, by linking domestic and human rights advocates and scholars through the Institute’s “Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers Network.” In examining HRI’s mission to bring human rights home in the United States, the authors also examine anew the opportunities and challenges that we face in the broader movement for human rights.