Support Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Because It Doesn’t Do Anything!
In the NYTimes.com’s Room for Debate forum, I offer reasons for supporting U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Unlike most supporters (like a certain Comedy Central personality), I don’t think the opponents are crazy nutcases. (For a more sensible, but less amusing take, take a look at co-blogger Peter Spiro’s contribution to the same forum). I think they have good and genuine objections.
While these concerns are not completely unfounded, treaty opponents are grossly exaggerating the impact that the convention would have on U.S. law and policy. The Obama administration, following a precedent set during the George H.W. Bush administration, has carefully shielded U.S. law from the treaty’s legal effect. It has conditioned Senate approval on a “non-self-executing” declaration that prevents any litigation under the convention in U.S courts. It has also added a federalism reservation that would prevent the convention from overriding inconsistent state law. And for good measure, it added a “private conduct” reservation that would prevent it from regulating nonstate actors, like parents or small businesses. Taken together, these limitations would indeed render the convention a legal nullity within the United States.
In any event, I argue that “sovereigntists” should save their fire (and credibility) for treaties that would actually impact US law and policy, like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. There are bad treaties that would allow UN agencies and international tribunals to interpret and impose bad legal obligations on the United States, but the CRPD is not one of them.