Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee remains opposed to ratifying a global treaty aimed at improving services and programs for the disabled, despite a push this week from activists hoping to change his mind.
On Thursday, a day after meeting with a small group of advocates in his Capitol Hill office, Corker reiterated his previous concerns that joining the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities could undermine U.S. sovereignty.
“This treaty is inconsistent with constitutional limits on federal power and the democratic process,” his office said in a statement.
In December, Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the pact “deals so extensively with matters that the Constitution leaves to the states, ratifying this treaty would greatly expand federal authority into these areas, including family law.”
Those concerns were amplified last year in a Supreme Court case involving the federal government’s prosecution of a Pennsylvania woman under an international chemical weapons treaty. The woman was accused of spreading a chemical compound on the doorknob, mailbox and car of her husband’s pregnant lover.
The Senate initially rejected ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2012,
when supporters were able to muster only 61 votes — five shy of the two-thirds majority needed for victory. Corker and fellow Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander both voted against it.
Alexander said Thursday he also remains opposed to the treaty.
The United States is already the gold standard for laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities,”he said, making reference to the American with Disabilities Act. “And I’m concerned that there are provisions in the treaty that might interfere with those domestic laws, and I think that affects our sovereignty.”
Democrats, led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, want to bring the treaty up for another vote, saying doubts about it have been addressed during two hearings the panel conducted in the fall.
Advocates for the disabled say Corker and other opponents, who include home-schooling advocates and anti-abortion activists, are badly misinformed.
“This treaty would not constrain our sovereignty,” according to an opinion column Menendez co-wrote with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in November for USA TODAY.
It would extend the protection of human rights on which America has proudly led the world for decades. As a matter of U.S. and international law, this treaty would hand no power to the United Nations or any other international body to change America’s laws.
Former Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee has joined the chorus of supporters.
“Voting no to this treaty is saying that we do not think the global community deserves an ADA of their own,” the former Senate majority leader said last month. “U.S. leadership matters. We should be at the table.”
Disability advocates say not having Corker on board hurts their chances because of his influence as the Foreign Relation Committee’s leading Republican. They don’t question his support of the disabled, simply his interpretation of the treaty’s legal scope.
They said they will try to find other committee Republicans who support the treaty.
“We will be refocusing,” said Sarah Sampson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Disability Coalition, which advocates for about 100,000 state residents. “We are not stopping.”
Ledyard King, Tennessean Washington Bureau, 01.16.2014