What does it mean for a treaty to be self-executing?

Enforceable upon ratification.

This Court has long recognized the distinction between treaties that automatically have effect as domestic law, and those that–while they constitute international law commitments–do not by themselves function as binding federal law. …[A] treaty is “equivalent to an act of the legislature,” and hence self-executing, when it “operates of itself without the aid of any legislative provision.” When, in contrast, “[treaty] stipulations are not self-executing they can only be enforced pursuant to legislation to carry them into effect.” … [Treaties] are not domestic law unless Congress has either enacted implementing statutes or the treaty itself conveys an intention that it be ‘self-executing’ and is ratified on these terms.”

Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008)

By the Constitution a treaty is placed on the same footing, and made of like obligation, with an act of legislation. Both are declared by that instrument to be the supreme law of the land, and no superior efficacy is given to either over the other. When the two relate to the same subject, the courts will always endeavor to construe them so as to give effect to both, if that can be done without violating the language of either; but if the two are inconsistent, the one last in date will control the other, provided always the stipulation of the treaty on the subject is self-executing. If the country with which the treaty is made is dissatisfied with the action of the legislative department, it may present its complaint to the executive head of the government, and take such other measures as it may deem essential for the protection of its interests. The courts can afford no redress. Whether the complaining nation has just cause of complaint, or our country was justified in its legislation, are not matters for judicial cognizance.

Whitney v. Robertson, 124 U.S. 190 (1888)

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