GOP Paranoid Politics Defeats Disability Treaty in Senate, 61 - 38

by Lainey Feingold, 2012-12-05

Senator Kerry was eloquent. 89-year old Bob Dole emailed from Walter Reed hospital and made it to the Senate floor to urge a yes vote. Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng wrote a supporting letter. Veterans, disability and civil rights group lobbied, tweeted, and organized. But it wasn’t enough. On December 4, at 9:29 a.m., thirty eight Republican Senators voted against the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (#CRPD). That's all it took to deprive the majority of the 2/3 vote needed to ratify a basic human rights treaty already approved by over 120 countries around the world. Yesterday at 9:29 a.m. human rights lost. The victors, to quote the New York Times, were "purveyors of paranoid politics."

Rick Santorum’s far right minions jumped on the no-on-CRPD bandwagon at the 11th hour. They pulled out every fringe argument in the book: the treaty would result in more abortions, fewer parental rights, less sovereignty. An international treaty that couldn’t change U.S. law if it tried would somehow, according to the Tea Party, negatively affect U.S. home schoolers. Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh no!

It was all false, but the falsehoods didn’t matter to the 38 Republicans who voted no. Find out who voted no on ADAPT’s Wall of Shame. And those 38 Republicans had supporters. Some tweeted about one world doomsday scenarios, rampant abortions and a supposed victory for “freedom.” It was, according to John Kerry “one of saddest days I’ve seen in 28 years in the Senate."

Sad and ironic. Republicans who believe in “spreading democracy” with tanks and weapons, invading countries with abandon, voted against exporting U.S. notions of equality. The CRPD would not – could not – change the law in the United States one iota. But the treaty was in fact modeled on U.S. law, and ratifying it would have recognized that the U.S. idea of disability rights deserves to be copied internationally.

Another irony? China ratified the treaty in 2008, yet opportunities for people with disabilities in China pale in comparison with rights guaranteed in U.S. law. Chinese human rights activist Chen Guancheng weighed in in support of the treaty – how embarrassing that he was witness to a No Vote in his current country of residence. Chen wrote to the senators:

“My work on civil rights began with trying to ensure that people with disabilities in my home country of China were afforded the same rights as everyone else. The [Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] is making this idea real in significant ways around the world today... The U.S. -- which was instrumental in negotiating the CRPD -- can continue to advance both its principles and issues of practical accessibility for its citizens and all people around the world, and by ratifying the treaty, so take its rightful place of leadership in the arena of human rights.”

Chen’s voice, and that of thousands of others rallying to support the CRPD, was ignore by the 38 Republicans. 38 Senators, from states including Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, trumped the overwhelming majority of senators, representing the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens, who wanted to ratify this treaty. As Senator Harry Reid said in his post-vote statement: “It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues.”

The ray of sunshine in this rainy day story? The activism, commitment and dedication of the disability rights and veterans communities, their Senate allies, and human rights compatriots in the United States and around the world.

People with disabilities and their organizations rallied around the CRPD cause and the majority of U.S. Senators responded favorably. This is not the last we’ve heard about this human rights treaty. As Senator Reid said “. . .I plan to bring this treaty up for a vote again in the next Congress. Our wounded veterans and millions more around the world deserve better.”


Lainey Feingold is a disability rights lawyer in Berkeley, California. You can follow her on Twitter at @LFLegal.