Open letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Disabilities Treaty vote

We were deeply disappointed by your recent statement indicating your refusal to support ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Treaty).

With more time and discussion, we believe that your reservations around the Disabilities Treaty can be overcome, and the United States can help empower people with disabilities across the globe to claim responsibility for their own lives and to be productive and valued members of society free from discrimination and indignity.


The Disabilities Treaty is modeled on our very own Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the world’s most comprehensive and progressive legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities. By ratifying the treaty, we have the opportunity to stand up once more as a leader and pioneer in protecting the rights, freedoms, and dignity of the more than one billion people worldwide living with disabilities.

We have an opportunity to build America’s brand around the globe of standing for good values, without the cost of wars or foreign aid. Even more importantly, U.S. ratification encourages other nations to end discrimination against disabled U.S. citizens and veterans that wish to live, work, study, or travel abroad.

Further, technological advances have not only dramatically improved the quality of life for people with disabilities, they have created a new industry for companies who sell these improvements. The market for these products will only grow as the Baby Boom generation ages into disability. Why not expand the market and the accompanying jobs in companies both here and abroad?

In your criticism of the Disabilities Treaty, you argued that the Reservations, Understandings and Declarations (RUDs) discussed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee provided insufficient protection against future federal overreach into regulatory areas delegated to the states by the Constitution.

But these concerns have already been assuaged by respected conservative legal scholars who testified before the committee during hearings on the treaty. Your federalism concerns could be addressed through the adoption of a binding RUD which would restrict the federal government from regulating activity based solely on the ratification of the Disabilities Treaty. Such a reservation, which we and other proponents of the treaty wholeheartedly endorse, would protect state regulatory sovereignty.

You also expressed concerns about the binding nature of RUDs, but there is long history of U.S. legal precedent which proves that carefully crafted RUDs are, in fact, binding. Whenever the Senate attaches RUDs to a treaty, the president cannot ratify that treaty without enacting the RUDs and giving them the force of law.

We urge you to return to the negotiating table and reconsider your position on the Disabilities Treaty. As you know, the development of good legislation takes time and careful deliberation. With continued bipartisan commitment to meaningful negotiations, we are confident that your concerns can be satisfactorily addressed. You have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to do the right thing – to reject partisan politics and to truly stand for the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. We hope you will take it.

Coelho represented California’s 15th Congressional District from 1979 to 1989. He was a primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. Ridge was Pennsylvania’s governor from 1995 to 2001, and represented Pennsylvania’s 21st Congressional District from 1983 to 1995. He was also the nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005.