108 TRANSNATIONAL LAW & CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS [Vol. 20:107
Women.”1 But the same letter states: “The Administration does not seek
action at this time” on the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and
Cultural Rights (“Economic Covenant”).2 The Economic Covenant, along with
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“Civil Covenant”)3
and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,4 comprise the International
Bill of Rights. This Article examines the legal, historical, and practical
reasons for the Obama Administration’s reluctance to “seek action” on the
Covenant and explains why, despite these reasons, it should. Indeed, the
United States has never needed the Economic Covenant more.
Part I introduces the Economic Covenant and explains why the United
States should ratify it. The Covenant is a straightforward exposition of
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “freedom from want,”5 an international instrument
setting out what he referred to as the “Second Bill of Rights.”6 It requires
nation-states to recognize the rights of their people to the basic necessities of
life, including work, an adequate standard of living, education, health, and
social security.7 Every industrialized democracy except the United States has
Domestically, the Covenant resonates with the ground-breaking
initiatives of the Obama Administration for universal healthcare, job-
1 Letter from Richard R. Verma, Assistant Sec’y of Legislative Affairs, to the Hon. John F. Kerry,
Chairman of the Comm. on Foreign Relations (May 11, 2009), available at
2 Id.; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21
U.N. GAOR Supp. No. 16 at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, 6 I.L.M 368 (1967)
(entered into force Jan. 3, 1976) [hereinafter ICESCR], available at
3 On April 2, 1992, the United States ratified the Civil Covenant. For the text of the Resolution of
Ratification, see International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Apr. 2, 1992, G.A. Res.
2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. No. 16 at 52, U.N. Do c. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, 6
I.L.M. 368 (1967) (entered into force Mar. 23, 1976) [hereinafter ICCPR], available at
4 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, pt. 1, U.N. Doc. A/810, at 71
(Dec. 10, 1948) [hereinafter Universal Declaration]. The United States signed the Declaration in
5 THE STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGES OF THE PRESIDENTS, 1790–1966 2855, 2860 (Fred L. Israel
ed., 1966). In his 1944 State of the Union Message, President Roosevelt elaborated on the
substance of "freedom from want," stating that it included “[t]he right to a useful and
remunerative job . . . [t]he right of every family to a decent home . . . [t]he right to adequate
medical care . . . [t]he right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness,
accident, and unemployment; [t]he right to a good education.” Id. at 2875, 2881.
6 See generally CASS SUNSTEIN, THE SECOND BILL OF RIGHTS (2004).
7 ICESCR, supra note 2, art. 11 (standard of living), art. 13 (education), art. 12 (health), art. 9
8 Status . . . International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UNITED NATIONS
3&src=TREATY#EndDec (last visited Feb. 22, 2011).