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This article provides a substantive discussion of international human rights law and how it can be used in federal and state courts to protect human rights within and outside the United States. It provides a comprehensive analysis of cases and examples of possible areas in which international human rights standards may be used to interpret United States laws. Specifically, the article seeks to promote more extensive use of international human rights laws by United States lawyers.

State and federal courts have traditionally used international law for the application and enforcement of treaties to which the United States has been a party. But because the United States ratified few human rights treaties, protection of human rights in this manner has proved difficult. Nonetheless, federal and state court decisions have provided promising precedents for additional applications of human rights law. This article identifies two significant developments: federal courts have held that allegations of violation of customary international law state a cause of action; and federal and state courts have relied upon international human rights laws and standards to defend and expand individual rights. This article addresses the developments in these cases and in cases involving direct application of human rights treaties.