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What is the relationship between US law and international law? This is the core question of the academic field of foreign relations law, but it is also a life-or-death issue for some people. In recent years, a series of cases involving death-row defendants has made its way to the federal courts, presenting a novel set of claims. This Essay discusses one such case, Garza v Lappin,1 decided in 2001. The opinion by Judge Diane Wood is characteristically scrupulous, but is not among her best known, and was hardly controversial at the time.2 Still, it is a useful case to illustrate the range of possible relationships between international human rights law and domestic courts, an issue of increasing importance around the globe.3

This Essay will examine Judge Wood’s approach in light of other possible angles taken by various judges—both those working in the US and outside of it—in recent years. It first considers possible relationships between domestic law and international human rights law. It then examines the opinion in Garza in light of these approaches, finding the opinion notable for taking international legal norms seriously and giving them their due weight. While they did not have an impact on the outcome of Juan Raul Garza’s habeas petition, the international norms are framed as ultimately complementary of domestic regulation; they do not substitute for it.

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