Martha F. Davis
University Distinguished Professor of Law; Co-Director, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy; Faculty Director, NuLawLab
Trinity College, Oxford University, MA 1981
University of Chicago, JD 1983
Professor Davis teaches Constitutional Law, US Human Rights Advocacy and Professional Responsibility. She is a faculty director for the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and the NuLawLab. In 2015-2016, she held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI), Lund University, in Lund, Sweden. She continued her work with RWI in 2017-2018, when she received a Fulbright Specialist Award, and she is now an affiliated scholar of the institute. She is also a member of the expert committee for HumanRight2Water, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that advocates for water and human rights.
Professor Davis has written widely on human rights, women’s rights and social justice issues. Most recently, she co-edited Covid-19 and Human Rights (Routledge, 2021) (co-editor), Research Handbook on Poverty and Human Rights (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021) (co-editor) and Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities (Cambridge, 2016), the first book-length scholarly treatment of the human rights cities movement. She is co-author of the first law school textbook focused on domestic human rights: Human Rights Advocacy in the United States (West, 3d ed. 2023), and she co-edited Bringing Human Rights Home, a three-volume work chronicling the U.S. human rights movement. In 2008, Bringing Human Rights Home was named one of the “best books in the field of human rights” by the US Human Rights Network. Professor Davis’s book, Brutal Need: Lawyers and the Welfare Rights Movement (Yale University Press, 1995), received the Reginald Heber Smith Award for distinguished scholarship on the subject of equal access to justice, and was also honored by the American Bar Association in its annual Silver Gavel competition. Professor Davis’ articles have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, the North Carolina Law Review, Fordham Law Review, Washington & Lee Law Review, and many others. She received the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) 2021 William R. Boggess Award for her co-authored paper “An Experiment in Making Water Affordable: Philadelphia’s Tiered Assistance Program (TAP),” which was published in the March 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association. Professor Davis is a contributing editor of the Law Professors’ Network Human Rights at Home blog.
Prior to joining the law faculty in 2002, Professor Davis was vice president and legal director for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. As a women’s rights practitioner, she was counsel in a number of cases before the US Supreme Court, including Nguyen v. INS, a challenge to sex-based citizenship laws that Professor Davis argued before the court. Professor Davis has also served as a fellow at the Bunting Institute, as the first Kate Stoneman Visiting Professor of Law and Democracy at Albany Law School, a Soros Reproductive Rights Fellow, a fellow at the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and fellow of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Professor Davis is an appointed member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights
Fields of Expertise
- Civil Rights
- Constitutional Law
- Domestic Violence
- Gender and the Law
- Human Rights
- International Law
- Legal Ethics
- Poverty Law
- Professional Responsibility
- Reproductive Rights
- Covid-19 and Human Rights (Routledge, 2021) (co-editor).
- Research Handbook on Poverty and Human Rights (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021) (co-editor).
- Global Urban Justice The Rise of Human Rights Cities (Cambridge University Press, 2016) (co-editor).
- Human Rights Advocacy in the United States (West Academic, 2014; second edition, 2018).
- Bringing Human Rights Home (Praeger, 2007) (co-editor and chapter author).
- Brutal Need: Lawyers and the Welfare Rights Movement, 1960-1973 (Yale University Press, 1995).
- “The State of Abortion Rights in the U.S.,” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics (forthcoming 2022).
- “(G)local Intersectionality,” Washington and Lee Law Review (forthcoming 2022).
- “Hidden Burdens: Household Water, “Hard to Reach” Renters and Systemic Racism,” 52 Seton Hall Law Review 1461 (2022).
- “Freedom From Thirst: A Right to Basic Household Water,” 42 Cardozo Law Review 101 (2021).
- “An Experiment in Making Water Affordable: Philadelphia’s Tiered Assistance Program (TAP),” 56 Journal of the American Water Resources Association 431 (2020) (co-author) (Winner of the 2021 American Water Resources Association William R. Boggess Award).
- “What Is Essential: Legal Design and Client Stories,” 13 Elon Law Journal 39 (2021).
- “The Limits of Local Sanctuary Initiatives for Immigrants,” 690 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 100 (2020).
- “Infertility and Human Rights: A Jurisprudential Survey,” 40 Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 1 (2020) (co-author).
- “Get Smart: Human Rights and Urban Intelligence,” 47 Fordham Urban Law Journal 971 (2020).
- “Scoping the New Urban Human Rights Agenda,” 51 The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 260 (2019).
- “The Upside Of The Downside: Local Human Rights And The Federalism Clauses,” 62 Saint Louis University Law Journal 921 (2018).
- Commentary: “Immigration Enforcement and Children’s Human Right to Education,” 56 Family Court Review 344 (2018).
- “Inconvenient Human Rights: Water and Sanitation in Sweden’s Informal Roma Settlements,” 19 Health and Human Rights Journal 61 (2017).
- “Sex-Based Citizenship Classifications and the 'New Rationality',” 80 Albany Law Review 851 (2017).
- “Cities Rising: European Municipalities and the Refugee Surge,” 39 Suffolk Transnational Law Review 683 (2016).
- “Let Justice Roll Down: A Case Study of the Legal Infrastructure for Water Equality and Affordability,” 23 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Public Policy 355 (2016).
- “Inconvenient Human Rights: Access to Water and Sanitation in Sweden's Informal Roma Settlements,” Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Södertörn University, and NuLawLab of Northeastern University School of Law (2016).
- “Bringing It Home: Human Rights Treaties and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in the United States,” 41 Human Rights Magazine 2 (2015).
- “Race and Civil Counsel in the United States: A Human Rights Progress Report,” 64 Syracuse Law Review 447 (2015).
- “Institutionalizing Legal Innovation: The (Re)Emergence of the Law Lab,” 65 Journal of Legal Education 190 (2015)
- “Human Rights in State Courts 2014,”Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 177-2014 (2014).
- “Participation, Equality and the Civil Right to Counsel: Lessons from Domestic and International Law,” 122 Yale Law Journal (2013).
- “Introduction: Framing Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights," 4 Northeastern University Law Journal 315 (2012).
- “Occupy Wall Street and International Human Rights,” 39 Fordham Urban Law Journal 931 (2012).
- “Oklahoma and Beyond: Understanding the Wave of State Anti-Transnational Law Initiatives,” 87(1) Indiana Law Journal Supplement 1 (2011) (co-author).
- “Oklahoma’s Anti-Sharia and Other Anti-Transnational Law Proposals:A Backgrounder for Domestic Human Rights Advocates,” 45 Clearinghouse Review 243 (Sept.-Oct. 2011) (co-author).
- “Law, Issue Frames and Social Movements: Three Case Studies,” 14 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change 363 (2011).
- “Learning to Work: A Functional Approach to Welfare and Higher Education,” 58 Buffalo Law Review 1 (2010).
- “Abortion Access in the Global Marketplace,” 88 University of North Carolina Law Review 1657 (2010).
- “The Child Exclusion in a Global Context,” 60 Case Western Reserve Law Review 1 (2010).
- “Not So Foreign After All: Alice Paul and International Women's Rights,” 16 New England Journal of International and Comparative Law 1 (2010).
- “Human Rights and the Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Intersection and Integration,” 42 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 157 (2010).
- “The Spirit of Our Times: State Constitutions and Human Rights,” 30 New York University Review of Law & Social Change 259 (2006).
- “Access and Justice: The Transformative Potential of Pro Bono Work,” 73 Fordham Law Journal 903 (2005).
- “Preparing for the Worst: Addressing the Legal Needs of Disaster Victims,” 31 Fordham Urban Law Journal 959 (2004).
- “The International Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Catalyst for Innovative Child Care Policy” 25 Human Rights Quarterly 689 (Aug. 2003) (co-author).
- “Life Without the Safety Net: When Women Facing Violence and Poverty Lose Welfare” Metropolitics (Winter 1997) (co-author).
- “Local Governments, Climate Action, and Sustainability: The Role of Human Rights.” In Human Rights in the Anthropocene: Concepts, Contexts and Challenges, eds. F. Baber and J. May (Cambridge, forthcoming).
- “Finding International Law ‘Close to Home’: The Case of Human Rights Cities.” In Research Handbook on International Law and Cities, eds. H. Aust et al. (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021).
- “Protecting Human Rights Through International and National Law,” in Social Injustice and Public Health, Third Edition, ed. B. Levy (Oxford University Press, 2019) (co-author).
- “The Status of Women in the United States, 1968 and 2017,” in The 50th Anniversary of the Kerner Commission, eds. Senator F. Harris et al. (Temple University Press, 2018).
- “Cities, Human Rights, and Accountability: The United States Experience,” in Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities, ed. Barbara Oomen, et al (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
- “Restoring Government Leadership on Human Rights at Home,” in Mandate for Change: Policies and Leadership for 2009 and Beyond, ed. C. Hartman (Lexington Books, 2009) (co-author), 431.
- “Progressive Lawyers and Human Rights: Using International and Comparative Law to Inform Domestic Decisions,” in Progressive Lawyering, Globalization and Markets: Rethinking Ideology and Strategy, ed. C. Dalton (William S. Hein & Co., 2007).
- “Sexual Harassment,” in Social Issues in America: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. Ciment (M.E. Sharpe, 2006), 1532.
- “Legislating Patriarchy,” in From Poverty to Punishment: How Welfare Reform Punishes the Poor, ed. G. Delgado (Applied Research Center, 2002).
- “The Ties that Bind: How Violence Perpetuates Women’s Poverty,” in Family Violence and Welfare Reform: What are the Links?, ed. R. Brandwein (ed. Sage, 1999).
- “Now is the Time: Mainstream Feminism’s Statements on Welfare Rights,” in For Crying Out Loud: Women’s Poverty in the United States, ed. D. Dujon et al. (South End Press, 1996), 337.
- “Reflections on the U.S. CERD Review, 2022,” Human Rights at Home (August 16, 2022).
- “PHRGE Submits Shadow Reports to UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” Northeastern Law News Announcement (July 15, 2022).
- “US Abortion Restrictions Are Unlikely to Influence International Trends, Which Are Largely Becoming More Liberal,” The Conversation (July 12, 2022).
- “'We Want to Make Sure People Are Safe here:' Gov. Mills Vows to Protect Abortion Access,” WGME (July 6, 2022).
- “What Else is “Egregiously Wrong”?,” Human Rights at Home (June 28, 2022) .
- “Northeastern Professor Says, ‘In the End, Roe and Casey Will Be Reaffirmed’,” News@Northeastern (June 25, 2022).
- “Northeastern Faculty Experts React to Roe v. Wade Decision,” News@Northeastern (June 25, 2022).
- “Roe Reversal, Ending National Access to Abortion, Makes US an Outlier Among Developed Nations,” Politifact (June 24, 2022).
- “Codifying Roe: Here Are the Constitutional Challenges a Federal Law Legalizing Abortion May Face, Experts Say,” News@Northeastern (June 2, 2022).
- “Overturning Roe v. Wade Could Impact How Other Countries View Abortion Rights,” News@Northeastern (May 23, 2022).
- “Fact-Checking Lindsey Graham on the US Allowing Abortions at 20 Weeks,” Politifact (May 13, 2022).
- “The Leaked SCOTUS Draft Threatens Contraception and Same-sex Marriage Rights, Too,” News@Northeastern (May 4, 2022).
- “Overturning Roe Sets Path for More U.S. Abortion Limits Than Parts of Middle East, Latin America,” Bloomberg (May 3, 2022).
- “What Legal Experts Say Will Be Impact of Roe v. Wade Draft Leak on SCOTUS,” New York Post (May 3, 2022).
- “How Will Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Influence the Supreme Court?,” News@Northeastern (April 7, 2022).
- “What’s Changed Since Abortion Rights Were Last Before the Supreme Court,” News@Northeastern (March 29, 2022).
- “Can States Preserve Access to Abortion if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned?,” News@Northeastern (February 10, 2022).
- “What Does Justice Stephen Breyer’s Retirement Mean for the Supreme Court?,” News@Northeastern (January 26, 2022).
- “Half of Us Could Lose Abortion Access if Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade,” News@Northeastern (December 3, 2021).
- “Access to Water is a Human Right. When Will the US Government Agree?,” WBUR's Cognoscenti (November 3, 2021).
- “Conservatives, Often Wary of Foreign Law, Look Abroad in Abortion Case,” The New York Times (October 4, 2021).
- “Can Roe V. Wade be Saved? She's Among a Group Making a Case to the Supreme Court,” News@Northeastern (September 23, 2021).
- “Professor Davis Named to Advisory Council of Equal Rights Amendment Project,” Northeastern Law News Announcement (March 5, 2021).
- “Professor Martha Davis and Four Northeastern Law Students Contribute to Mass. SAC Report on Water Affordability,” Northeastern Law News Announcement (February 2, 2021).
- “Professor Davis Co-Authors Infertility and Human Rights Publication,” Northeastern Law News Announcement (August 6, 2020).
- “COVID-19: Challenges Us to Address Societal Inequalities,” Raoul Wallenberg Institute Blog (April 9, 2020).
- “Water is ‘A Fundamental Right’,” Northeastern News (April 8, 2020).
- “Virginia May Ratify The Equal Rights Amendment. What Would Come Next Is Murky,” NPR News (January 8, 2020).
- “Could The Rising Cost Of Water Leave Some Mass. Residents Struggling To Pay The Bill?,” WBUR's Radio Boston (August 14, 2019).
- “What’s Up with Water,” Circle of Blue (August 12, 2019).
- “Amid Rising Water Rates, Massachusetts Cities Have Inequitable Affordability Policies, Report Finds,” Circle of Blue (August 1, 2019).
- “Water Is More Expensive Than Ever. Massachusetts Should Do More To Help Residents,” WBUR's Cognoscenti (July 24, 2019).
- “A Drop in the Bucket: Water Affordability Policies in Twelve Massachusetts Communities,” The Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law (July 2019).
- “What's Next for the Mueller Investigation?,” Northeastern News (November 8, 2018).
- “Why Brett Kavanaugh Is a Huge Threat to Minority Rights,” Fortune (July 10, 2018).
- “Donald Trump Says He Has the Absolute Right to Pardon Himself, Would That Even Be Legal?,” Northeastern News (June 5, 2018).
- “Do Iranian Americans Receive Equal Rights Before The Law?,” The Iranian (May 2, 2018).
- “From A World Of Need, The UN Comes To America To Study Extreme Poverty,” WBUR's Cognoscenti (December 20, 2017).
- “Remembering Janet Benshoof,” Human Rights at Home (December 20, 2017).
- "Health Care, Racial Justice and Human Rights," Human Rights at Home (July 26, 2017).
- "The Powers and Limits of Presidential Pardons," Northeastern News (July 25, 2017).
- "High Court Ruling on Birthright Citizenship Is a Victory for Gender Equity," The Boston Globe (June 13, 2017).
- “Testing Federal Power Over Immigration,” The Atlantic (October 24, 2016).
- “3Qs: Why Voting Rights Rulings Will Help the Democrats at the Polls,” Northeastern News(August 8, 2016).
- “Sweden and the UN’s Report on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” Personal Dispatches, Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (August 5, 2016).
- “Human Rights at Sea,” Human Rights at Home (May 2, 2016).
- ““Brainy Award” Winners Examine US Human Rights Issues,” Human Rights at Home (April 29, 2016).
- “The Drumbeat to End Solitary Confinement Intensifies -- New Resources and Continuing Challenges,” Human Rights at Home (February 26, 2016).
- “Resources on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the US Context,” Human Rights at Home (February 3, 2016).
- “Will the Flint Water Crisis Light a Fire?,” Human Rights at Home (February 2, 2016).
- “Learning from the Torture Memos,” Human Rights at Home (January 21, 2016).
- “Whole Woman's Health v. Cole: The Face of “Human Dignity”,” Human Rights at Home (January 15, 2016).
- “The State of the Human Rights Union,” Human Rights at Home (January 13, 2016).
- “Vaccinations and Human Rights,” Human Rights at Home (February 5, 2015).
- “Rebuffing the Zones,” The American Prospect (January 14, 2014).
- “Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones’ Fate in Hands of High Court,” The Boston Globe (December 29, 2013).
- “Prop 8 Standing Ruling Shakes Up Citizen Lawmaking,” Law 360 (June 26, 2013).
Martha F. Davis
University Distinguished Professor of Law; Co-Director, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy; Faculty Director, NuLawLab