New York, N.Y. June 11, 2020 — Six human rights organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Pompeo’s unlawful formation and operation of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Chartered by Sec. Pompeo to conduct a “profound reexamination” of the human rights landscape, the Commission has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by operating behind closed doors and with a membership stacked with academics hostile to reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTQI community, while excluding the perspectives of mainstream human rights organizations. The plaintiffs — four human rights advocacy groups represented by Democracy Forward — are now joined by amici in raising concerns that the Commission is poised to issue recommendations that will change America’s stance on fundamental tenets of human rights law, including by prioritizing religious liberties over other rights, and that it will do so in violation of federal law. Sec. Pompeo has said that he expects to receive the Commission’s final report around July 4th.
In their brief, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, and the International Women’s Health Coalition write that they “are deeply troubled by the Commission’s apparent intent to undo decades of progress — repeatedly affirmed in multilateral treaties which the United States has signed and, in some cases, ratified — by replacing authoritative interpretations of international human rights law with those of the Commission’s members.”
The amici concur that the State Department has violated federal transparency law in its creation and operation of the Commission. In particular, the groups are concerned by the Commission’s biased membership, which “includes no advocates for the rights of LGBTI individuals to equal treatment under the law or the right to access reproductive health care.” Although federal law requires that outside advisory committees include a fair balance of viewpoints, the Commission is stacked with members who have openly opposed these rights and excludes representatives of groups that promote the rights of women and LGBTQI individuals. The amici, for instance, note that the Commission is chaired by former Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, a staunch abortion opponent who has also argued that marriage equality is not a civil right but “a bid for special preferences.”
The amici further contend that the Commission will cause concrete and widespread harm to the communities on whose behalf they advocate. For example, they explain that: “religious refusals could be used to deny services — including housing, employment, education, health, and commercial services — to LGBTI individuals.”
On Tuesday, concerns about the Commission were also raised by members of Congress. Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to the Commission expressing grave concern that its “upcoming report will undermine our nation’s ability to lead on critical issues of universal human rights, including reproductive freedom and protections for millions of people globally in the LGBTQI community.” Their letter is but the latest in a string of objections raised by members of Congress since the Commission was announced. A group of 20 Senators recently expressed their concern with the Commission in a letter sent on May 20.
The amicus brief was filed on June 9 in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read it in full here.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.