Integrating International Human Rights Law with US Juvenile Law

Emerging Leader Fellow: Kacey Mordecai, 2011-2012

The United States is the only jurisdiction in the world that sentences children to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) and Pennsylvania has more inmates serving juvenile LWOP sentences than any other jurisdiction. Kacey's project will help build the case for the application of international human rights law in American courts to ensure greater protections for children in the juvenile justice system. In the past decade, international law has played an increasing role in constitutional analysis, with a growing number of Supreme Court Justices acknowledging its import and its use by legal scholars to interpret the U.S. Constitution. Although the Supreme Court has increasingly relied upon international human rights law as a standard, particularly in the Eighth Amendment context (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment), its principles are still not fully embedded in domestic law. 

Focusing on international treaties, covenants and conventions that apply most directly to issues that arise in juvenile justice, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) seeks to integrate human rights principles into its legal advocacy. While JLC has used international law sporadically in its case work, the Center lacks the capacity to fully integrate international law analysis and arguments into its work. Furthermore, few legal resources exist to help apply international law arguments to juvenile laws. 

To help fill the void in resources, Kacey will develop a briefing book that will identify applicable case law, provide, relevant arguments that have been used, and highlight where these arguments have been successful.  JLC will publish the briefing book and make it accessible online.  The briefing book will guide JLC attorneys in their legal work and inform the work of other law practitioners and juvenile justice reform advocates nationally.

Kacey's project could help shape new analysis in the field, establishing JLC as a leader in advancing international law to protect the rights of children in the United States.