THE CONTENTIOUS HISTORY of the International Bill of Human Rights

Cambridge University Press (2015)

Winner of the American Sociological Association’s 2015 Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Section Book Award.

Today, the idea of human rights enjoys near-universal support; yet, there is deep disagreement about what human rights actually are, their true source of origin, how to study them, and how best to address their deficits. This sweeping historical exploration traces these contemporary conflicts back to their moments of inception and shows how more than a half century ago, a series of contradictions worked their way into the International Bill of Human Rights, the foundation of the modern system of human rights. By viewing human rights as representations of human relations that emerge from struggle, this book charts a new path into the subject of human rights and offers a novel approach for addressing some of the most challenging contemporary problems.

Grasping at Origins: Shifting the Conversation in the Historical Study of Human Rights

Forthcoming in the Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 17.2.

In recent years, scholars from a range of disciplinary orientations have invested considerable time exploring a very basic question: Where did human rights come from? The answers have not been so basic. There exists an extraordinary range of conflicting historical accounts. This Article argues that it is time to shift the focal point of the debate on the origins of human rights. Instead of asking which narrative is correct and which is wrong, knowledge production within this field of study would be better served by asking: Why are there so many divergent founding stories? This question still permits an inquiry into the history and origins of human rights, but it also requires scholars to be much more mindful about how they and others have been constructing their histories. Asking this question also provides a way to begin to explore a sneaking suspicion that many of the debates over the history of human rights are simply another way of putting forth normative arguments about what human rights ought to be. It is therefore not just the history of human rights that we need to scrutinize. It is time to take stock of all the hidden assumptions, veiled methodologies, and normative underpinnings that in recent years have guided the many competing stories of origin in vastly different directions.


Human Rights Lost: The (Re)making of an American Story

Forthcoming in the Minnesota Journal of International Law, Vol. 26.

Article introduces a new approach to the historical study of human rights by focusing not on established law, but rather on three “legal failures” that are completely invisible within the framework of binding law and precedent: a failed constitutional amendment in Washington D.C.; an overruled appellate opinion from California; and an unlikely movement to replace the United Nations with a more powerful “world government.” To the extent that we in the present fail to appreciate the domestic origins of our own contemporary human rights concept, it is quite possible that we become unwitting collaborators of those opponents who helped invent it in the past.

Standing Our Legal Ground

Standing our Legal Ground: Reclaiming The Duties Within Second Amendment Rights Cases

The Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 47, 235-68 (2015).

The Supreme Court is likely to hear another contentious Second Amendment gun case in the near future. Focusing exclusively on rights—the dominant mode of legal analysis in such cases—is, ironically, not the appropriate foundational starting point. Although every legal right must be associated with a legal duty, duties are almost entirely absent from consideration in the American gun debate. This analysis shows that without duties, legal rights are reduced to mere politics—one-way paths directed toward individual interests, political purposes, and ideological ends. The analytic framework outlined in this Article not only offers a nuanced and precise rendering of how our Constitutional rights operate in context, it also provides the theoretical and conceptual scaffolding necessary for the empirical study of these rights.

Bitter Pills

The Dynamics of Health Care Reform: Bitter Pills Old and New

45 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 1341 (2012).

The United States is at a crossroads—albeit one it has visited several times before. The polarizing controversy surrounding national health care that began several generations ago is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. In this latest round of national debates, the issue of health care has been framed exclusively as a domestic issue. But history shows that the question of national healthcare in the United States is also an extremely important issue for international law and international politics. To shed light on the overlooked nexus between the PPACA, U.S. constitutional law, and international human rights law, this Article examines the debates surrounding healthcare and human rights that occupied the nation’s attention over six decades ago.