hero image
Martha  Davis  - Global Resilience Institute. Boston, MA, US

Martha Davis Martha  Davis

Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Experiential Education, Northeastern University | Faculty Affiliate, Global Resilience Institute


Professor Davis teaches Constitutional Law, US Human Rights Advocacy and Professional Responsibility.



Martha  Davis  Publication Martha  Davis  Publication Martha  Davis  Publication Martha  Davis  Publication



loading image loading image


Martha Davis, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) Bringing Human Rights Home



Professor Davis teaches Constitutional Law, US Human Rights Advocacy and Professional Responsibility. She is associate dean for experiential education and 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, Lund University, in Lund, Sweden, and she remains an affiliated scholar with the institute. She is also a member of the expert pool for WaterLex, a Geneva-based development 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 Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities (Cambridge, 2016), the first book-length scholarly treatment of the human rights cities movement. In addition to serving as an editor, Professor Davis contributed a chapter, “Cities, Human Rights and Accountability: The United States Experience.” She is co-author of the first law school textbook focused on domestic human rights: Human Rights Advocacy in the United States (West, 2014), and she co-edited Bringing Human Rights Home, a three-volume work chronicling the US 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 and many others. Professor Davis co-edits the Law Professors’ Network Human Rights at Home blog.

Areas of Expertise (3)

Social Justice Issues Social and Community Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Education (3)

University of Chicago: JD 1983

Trinity College, Oxford University: MA 1981

Harvard University: AB 1979

Media Appearances (5)

Donald Trump Says He Has the ‘Absolute Right’ to Pardon Himself. Would That Even Be Legal?

News @ Northeastern  online


On Monday, President Donald J. Trump tweeted that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, adding that he wouldn’t do so, however, because he’s “done nothing wrong.”

view more

High Stakes for Politics, SCOTUS in 2018

News @ Northeastern  online


Politics consumed the national discourse in 2017, as the White House challenged conventional norms, Republicans and Democrats clashed over major pieces of legislation, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation loomed large over President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

view more

From A World Of Need, The U.N. Comes To America To Study Extreme Poverty

WBUR  online


When a seasoned human rights expert who has traveled the globe arrives in America, crisscrosses our country for two weeks, and finds a depth of poverty that surprises even him, we need to pay attention.

view more

The Powers and Limits of Presidential Pardons

News @ Northeastern  online


Late last week, The Washington Post reported that President Donald J. Trump “has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself” in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Shortly after, one of the president’s personal attorneys denied it, saying that Trump’s legal team is not looking into the question of whether the president can pardon himself.

view more

Inequality Investigation: UN Expert to Detail Extreme Poverty in US

Sputnik  online


A United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a fact-checking tour through the United States to investigate government efforts to address deep poverty in the country and hold lawmakers accountable, if found that they have failed to meet obligations under international human rights law.

view more

Research Grants (1)

Safe places and politics of fear: An interdisciplinary investigation of “Sanctuary Cities”

Global Resilience Institute 

This project considers ways that cities might become more resilient as they respond to various forms of oppression, human rights violations, and other unjust exercises of power worldwide. As an entry point to this issue, we focus on Boston and the concept of sanctuary cities. Our interdisciplinary research team will explore four aspects of the sanctuary cities concept and its implementation in Boston: (1) their philosophical grounding; (2) their intersecting legal frameworks, including infrastructure, immigrant status and law enforcement; (3) their impacts on health and well-being of city residents; and (4) their spatial dimensions. We will expand our knowledge base through engagement with local and national experts, convening a series of group consultations. Our team will initiate several pilot projects to further explore the impact and significance of the sanctuary city concept, leveraging ongoing research involving immigrants’ experiences of bias in Boston. Our exploration will involve travel to at least two other U.S. sanctuary cities to initiate a comparative analysis.

view more

Articles (5)

Design Challenges for Human Rights Cities Columbia Human Rights Law Review

Martha F. Davis


Given the scope of their responsibilities, city leaders have tremendous opportunities to advance human rights. Among other things, cities must deliver water, sewage treatment, trash removal, road maintenance, public transportation, public safety, and education to their residents. For good or ill, whether or not they explicitly acknowledge it, cities and city leaders are addressing a wide range of human rights in their day-to-day operations, generally with minimal federal oversight and decreasing levels of direct financial support. Some U.S. cities have gone further to make their human rights commitments explicit, joining a host of international cities and regions in declaring themselves to be human rights cities that will take human rights norms into account in setting city policy.

view more

Inconvenient Human Rights: Water and Sanitation in Sweden’s Informal Roma Settlements Health and Human Rights Journal

Martha F. Davis and Natasha Ryan


Following an increase in Roma migration under the European “freedom of movement” laws, Swedish municipalities initiated more than 80 evictions of informal Roma settlements on the grounds of poor sanitation between 2013 and 2016. These evictions echo policies from earlier in the 20th century, when Roma living in Sweden were often marginalized through the denial of access to water and sanitation facilities. The recent Swedish evictions also follow similar government actions across Europe, where Roma settlements are controlled through the denial of access to water and sanitation. However, access to water and sanitation—central aspects of human health—are universal human rights that must be available to all people present in a jurisdiction, regardless of their legal status. The evictions described here violated Sweden’s obligations under both European and international human rights law. More positive government responses are required, such as providing shelters or camping sites, setting up temporary facilities, and directly engaging with communities to address water and sanitation issues. The authors conclude by providing guidance on how states and municipalities can meet their human rights obligations with respect to water and sanitation for vulnerable Roma individuals and informal settlements in their communities.

view more

Sex-Based Citizenship Classifications and the 'New Rationality' Albany Law Review

Martha F. Davis


In the 2001 case, Nguyen v. INS, the United States Supreme Court purported to exercise intermediate scrutiny while upholding a sex-based citizenship classification. Yet, as many commentators — including the dissenting Justices — have pointed out, the scrutiny exercised in that case bore few of the hallmarks of heightened review. Rather than hold the government to a tight fit between statutory ends and means, the majority accepted stereotypes and post hoc rationalizations to uphold distinctions between mothers and fathers for purposes of transmitting derivative citizenship to their out-of-wedlock, foreign-born children.

view more

Cities Rising: European Municipalities and the Refugee Surge Suffolk Transnational Law Review

Martha F. Davis


The two major cities of the transnational Öresund region, Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen and Sweden’s third largest city Malmö, are connected physically by bridge and are in many respects a single metropolitan area. However, the national-level responses to Europe’s refugee crisis have undermined efforts to integrate the economic, transport and other aspects of the Öresund. In January 2016, Swedish border controls went into effect to stem the flow of thousands of refugees who sought to leave Denmark for the more hospitable Sweden. The disruption brought upon by this development brings to light many social issues addressed by the local – not national – level.

view more

Let Justice Roll Down: A Case Study of the Infrastructure for Water Equality and Affordability Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy

Martha F. Davis


In the absence of a fundamental right to a basic level of drinking water and sanitation in the United States, this article examines the ways in which federal and local civil rights laws provide an alternative legal infrastructure to ensure baseline water and sanitation equality. The article focuses on a particular jurisdiction, Washington, D.C. However, the framework analyzed has direct relevance to other subnational settings, since many anti-discrimination laws are federal and all share common themes across jurisdictions.

view more