Does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights override the United States Constitution when it comes to the rights of civilians?

  • 1
    In the United States the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land. This means nothing, short of a Constitutional Amendment, may override its provisions.
    – Viktor
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 20:19
  • International law is ignored by the United States whenever it pleases them.
    – Ken Sharp
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 20:49

1 Answer 1


Not in US courts. It would be more accurate to say the UDHR overrides nothing and is not US law. It is a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution; while it is very powerful persuasive authority and much is customary international law, it is persuasive authority only. See Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692.

The US has ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which unlike the UDHR is a treaty, meaning that is a legal obligation for the US. However, the ratification was subject to many reservations and declarations, whose net effect is that the ICCPR is not in and of itself enforceable in US courts. The US considers the US Constitution to provide the rights in question, and basically assumes no further obligations.

Even if it was possible to enforce the ICCPR in US court directly, Reid v. Covert established that the Constitution overrides treaties in US court. While as a matter of international law treaties override domestic law, this is not necessarily enforceable in domestic court.

  • Great answer, +1. One nitpick - is it technically correct to say that The US considers the US Constitution to provide the rights in question? I'd think it would be more correct to say that the constitution simply enumerates some of the rights civilians have; without those amendments, citizens would have the same rights so long as there were no other laws against their exercise. Maybe it would be better to say the constitution helps preserve or safeguard those rights?
    – Patrick87
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 19:36
  • @nomenagentis Good points - maybe it would be even more consistent with the inalienable rights interpretation that the Constitution simply enumerates some of the rights for no other reason than to illustrate some of the rights which the citizens have. This record could be a useful indicator to the People that the government has overstepped its historical bounds, for instance. But that's why I asked :)
    – Patrick87
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 20:23
  • @Patrick87 the inalienable rights are in the declaration, not the constitution, and have no force of law.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 22:09

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