America's Changing Relationship with International Law

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The vote to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities failed in the Senate yesterday by six votes. 

The treaty faced considerable opposition from conservative Republicans like Senator John Inhofe from Oklahoma, who said, "I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American sovereignty."

In recent years, American lawmakers and judges have become increasingly averse to international law. Gabor Rona, international legal director of Human Rights First, explains America's changing relationship to international law and how international treaties function with — or without — American leadership. 

Rona quotes his late mentor, former Columbia University Law School professor Louis Henkin, who wrote, in 1979: "In the cathedral of human rights the United States is more like a flying buttress than a pillar — choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system, but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of that system."