Problematic Disabilities Treaty Up for Consideration Again | Commentary

Posted August 4, 2014 at 1:56pm

Since the birth of our special needs daughter Bella more than six years ago, my wife Karen and I have become vocal advocates for the rights of the disabled.

That is why we have been so opposed to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since it first came up in 2012.

If there was anything in the CRPD that would make life better for Bella and others like her, we would be its fiercest champions, but there isn’t.

The United States already has the strongest protections for those with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and proponents of the CRPD say they agree that this treaty does nothing to change things here at home.

Some hope this treaty would encourage other countries to change how they treat their disabled citizens. Unfortunately, one only needs to look around the world for proof of the CRPD’s ineffectiveness. Most of the world has already ratified the treaty, including some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships. There is no one reason why the CRPD has failed as a global tool for aiding the world’s disabled, but it has failed. Having the United States ratify the CRPD will not magically make the treaty effective.

There are many troubling provisions in this treaty. A crucial part uses the same language as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child’s “best interest of the child” standard. It would give the federal government, under U.N. direction, the right to ignore states’ laws on the subjects of family law and child welfare and possibly determine what is best for our disabled children. While some say that would never be enforced, are you willing to make that gamble?

There is not even a definition of “disability” in the CRPD. In fact, the drafters of the CRPD specifically decided to not define disability, and cast disability as an open-ended “evolving concept.” This may some day allow a U.N. panel to take radical perspectives on just what will qualify as a disability.

Despite its defeat in 2012, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., tried to bring it up again in 2013. At that time Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican of the committee, used the hearings to ask some very pointed questions reflecting the concerns of millions of other Americans. After an effort to work with Democrats and the State Department to develop reservations, understandings and declarations designed to quarantine the most troublesome parts of the treaty, Corker announced last December in no uncertain terms that he could no longer support the treaty. He determined that it posed a real threat to our sovereignty, our federalist system and democratic governance in general.

On July 22, the CRPD again went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it was unfortunately approved by a vote of 12-6. No doubt sensing their days controlling the Senate are numbered, Democrats will once again try to force quick ratification before the full chamber.

The truth is, Menendez and other senators have never made a serious effort to deal with the structural and substantive flaws of the treaty. They have instead falsely claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bond v. United States in June removed any doubt that an international treaty could not run roughshod over United States laws.

They are wrong.

To briefly explain this ruling, the only thing the court did in Bond was reverse the federal criminal conviction of a woman in Pennsylvania who had been convicted under an international chemical weapons ban treaty. The court’s majority opinion did nothing to affirm that an international treaty cannot be the law of our land, and actually avoided the subject altogether.

While all nine justices agreed to reverse her conviction, they did so for very different reasons. Some did so because they found that Congress had overstepped its authority.The conservative wing of the court, however, did so because they believed the court’s treaty power precedent was overbroad, ignored the Constitution’s commitment to limited federal powers and threatened to override other, specifically enumerated powers in the Constitution.

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats are intentionally ignoring the fact that Bond did not change anything because they prefer victory over constitutionality. The reality, however, is that the CRPD remains a poor treaty, leaves too many questions unanswered, and ultimately will not help the world’s disabled population, including Americans with disabilities and our wounded warriors. The benefits are illusory and the risk to our sovereignty is just too great.

At a time when the world is burning, and there are serious foreign policy challenges and threats in every corner of the globe, Democrats should stop wasting precious time promoting a treaty that at best is ineffective and at worst does not serve American interests.

If this treaty ever goes before the full Senate again, I respectfully ask my former colleagues to bury it once and for all.

Rick Santorum is the author of “Blue Collar Conservatives” and is a former candidate for president. He served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and in the House from 1991 to 1995.