The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to revisit ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities earlier this month. The U.S. would be the 139th country to ratify the treaty.
It has been almost a year since the Senate last took up the matter. The U.S. signed in 2009, but the Constitution requires the “advice and consent” of the Senate for our participation to be official. Ratification requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate (they actually vote on a resolution to ratify, not on ratification itself). According to the Senate’s website — and Alexander Hamilton’s “Federalist Papers” — the framers of the Constitution believed that requiring the two-thirds vote would ensure that support would overcome partisan division.
Hamilton knew his partisan politics. The December 2012 vote failed pretty much along party lines.
The matter does not have to be an “up or down” vote. The Senate could simply decide to take no action, leaving the issue open for future debate. Or, the Senate could vote in favor of ratification with amendments.
Amendments can include reservations or understandings — statements that would alter the terms of the treaty for the U.S. The challenge with this course of action, though, is that the amendments must then be accepted (or rejected) by the president and the other nations that have signed the treaty.
It is hard to say which road this Senate will take. Opponents fully support the U.S.’s commitment to people with disabilities, but they have a couple of arguments against the convention. First, they say participation would risk U.S. sovereignty. Our own laws, including the ADA, would be trumped by this international law. Opponents believe too that the treaty takes away parents’ ability to determine what is best for their children and places that right and responsibility into the hands of the U.N. and government agents.
Even with the support of the White House, disability advocates have their work cut out for them. At last count, more than 700 organizations — disability and civil rights advocates, business associations and veterans groups — were rallying to put pressure on senators to vote for ratification.
Disability Scoop, “Senate To Revive Disability Rights Treaty,” Michelle Diament, Nov. 1, 2013
BCN, “Senate to Hold Hearings on Controversial UN Treaty,” Michael Farris Jr., Nov. 6, 2013
United States Senate, “The Senate’s Role in Treaties,” accessed at www.Senate.gov on Nov. 14, 2013