Today, the Republican Party in the Senate rejected a United Nations treaty to protect the rights of the disabled:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
Among their fears about the disabilities convention were that it would codify standards enumerated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — and therefore United Nations bureaucrats would be empowered to make decisions about the needs of disabled children — and that it could trump state laws concerning people with disabilities. Proponents of the bill said these concerns were unfounded.
The measure, which required two-thirds support for approval, failed on a vote of 61 to 38.
Joshua Keating notes the surprising influence of homeschoolers in ensuring the treaty’s failure to be ratified:
In addition to groups like the Heritage Foundation — which opposes nearly any U.N. treaty on sovereignty grounds — and anti-abortion politicians like Rick Santorum who argue, inaccurately, that the law could lead to abortion being mandated for disabled children, the politically powerful, but usually under-the-radar U.S. homeschooling movement has been one of the most pivotal lobbies working against U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association claims to have sent anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 letters and emails to lawmakers urging them to oppose the treaty:
“I think the homeschool movement was more mobilized on this issue than any issue in the last decade,” Estrada said, noting that a large population of homeschooling families had at least one child with a disability.
“They realized this wasn’t about disabilities issue, this was about who was going to make decisions for children with disabilities,” he said.
Groups like the HLDA argue that the treaty could allow the U.N. to mandate that parents who home school their disabled children to send them to government-run schools. (It says nothing of the sort.) They may also be worried that adoption of the law could set a precedent for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they oppose on equally specious, but perhaps slightly more comprehensible grounds
It is indeed sad that a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it, but it’s yet more evidence of how influential a small group can be when it gets very organized and very loud.