Relevance of Senate Ratification History to Treaty Interpretation

Headnotes: 

The most relevant extrinsic evidence of a treaty’s meaning are exchanges between the parties negotiating it, i.e., the President and the foreign power. The portions of the ratification record entitled to the greatest weight are representations of the Executive, who is in essence the draftsman of the treaty. The Senate’s advice and consent function was designed by the Framers as a check on the President’s treaty-making power, and the Senate’s deliberations cannot be ignored altogether. Nonetheless, in all but the most unusual cases, the ratification record is not the determinative source of evidence as to the treaty’s meaning under domestic law.

Updated July 9, 2014