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There is confusion in the media and elsewhere about United States law as it relates to international agreements, including treaties. The confusion exists with respect to such matters as whether "treaty" has the same meaning in international law and in the domestic law of the United States, how treaties are ratified, how the power to enter into international agreements is allocated among the Executive Branch, the Senate and the whole Congress, whether Congress may override an existing treaty, and the extent to which international agreements are enforceable in United States courts.
Under international law a "treaty" is any international agreement concluded between states or other entities with international personality (such as public international organizations), if the agreement is intended to have international legal effect. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties sets out an elaborate set of international law standards for treaties, broadly defined.
.... ever-increasing importance of treaties as a source of international law and as a means of developing peaceful cooperation among nations, whatever their constitutional and social systems,
.... the principles of free consent and of good faith and the pacta sunt servanda (((Latin for "agreements must be kept"))) rule are universally recognized,
.... disputes concerning treaties, like other international disputes, should be settled by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law,
.... the determination of the peoples of the United Nations to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties can be maintained,
.... the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, such as the principles of the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, of the sovereign equality and independence of all States, of non-interference in the domestic affairs of States, of the prohibition of the threat or use of force and of universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all,
.... the law of treaties achieved in the present Convention will promote the purposes of the United Nations set forth in the Charter, namely, the maintenance of international peace and security, the development of friendly relations and the achievement of cooperation among nations...
"Treaty" has a much more restricted meaning under the constitutional law of the United States. It is an international agreement that has received the "advice and consent" (in practice, just the consent) of two-thirds of the Senate and that has been ratified by the President. The Senate does not ratify treaties. When the Senate gives its consent, the President--acting as the chief diplomat of the United States--has discretion whether or not to ratify the instrument. Through the course of U. S. history, several instruments that have received the Senate's consent have nonetheless remained unratified. Those instruments are not in force for the United States, despite the Senate's consent to them.
At one time there was some doubt whether a treaty (adopted with the consent of two-thirds of the Senate) must comply with the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has yet to hold a treaty unconstitutional. Nevertheless, there is very little doubt that the Court would do so today if a treaty clearly violated the Bill of Rights. Even more certainly, it would hold unconstitutional a Congressional-Executive agreement or a Sole Executive agreement that is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.
To summarize: the Senate does not ratify treaties; the President does. Treaties, in the U. S. sense, are not the only type of binding international agreement. Congressional-Executive agreements and Sole Executive agreements may also be binding. It is generally understood that treaties and Congressional-Executive agreements are interchangeable; Sole Executive agreements occupy a more limited space constitutionally and are linked primarily if not exclusively to the President's powers as commander in chief and head diplomat. Treaties and other international agreements are subject to the Bill of Rights. Congress may supersede a prior inconsistent treaty or Congressional-Executive agreement as a matter of U. S. law, but not as a matter of international law. Courts in the United States use their powers of interpretation to try not to let Congress place the United States in violation of its international law obligations. A self-executing treaty provision is the supreme law of the land in the same sense as a federal statute that is judicially enforceable by private parties. Even a non-self-executing provision of an international agreement represents an international obligation that courts are very much inclined to protect against encroachment by local, state or federal law.
Confusion indeed, Mr. Kirgis. In order for two or more nations to enter into a treaty they must first have the mandate of those they respectively govern to represent them and their well-being... which is to say, they must be representatives of a "sovereign" people.