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Secretary of State Establishes Commission on Unalienable Rights

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On July 8, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo established a Commission on Unalienable Rights. The Commission will “provide the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters … [and] provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” The Commission has an initial two-year mandate. Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns that the Commission will circumvent existing structures and challenge LGBTQ+ protections and reproductive rights.

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References

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1 Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights, 84 Fed. Reg. 25109 (May 30, 2019).

2 Id.; see also 5 U.S.C. App. § 9 (2018) (setting conditions on the establishment of advisory commissions, including that notice of their establishment be published in the Federal Register).

3 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State, Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019), at https://www.state.gov/secretary-of-state-michael-r-pompeo-remarks-to-the-press-3 [https://perma.cc/V6MZ-TATP] [hereinafter Pompeo Remarks].

4 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Teleconference Interview by Sebastian Gorka with Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State (July 12, 2019), at https://www.state.gov/interview-with-sebastian-gorka-of-america-first [https://perma.cc/59FL-TYXM].

5 U.S. Dep't of State, Commission on Unalienable Rights Charter, at 3 (2019), available at https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/charter-commission-unalienable-rights.pdf [https://perma.cc/T873-TLQR].

6 Pompeo Remarks, supra note 3.

7 Michael R. Pompeo, Unalienable Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy, Wall Street J. (July 7, 2019), at https://www.wsj.com/articles/unalienable-rights-and-u-s-foreign-policy-11562526448.

8 Pompeo Remarks, supra note 3.

9 Harvard Law School, Mary Ann Glendon Faculty Profile, at https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10311/Glendon [https://perma.cc/4CGK-43HH]; Pompeo Remarks, supra note 3.

10 U.S. Dep't of State Press Release, Mary Ann Glendon, Chairwoman, Comm'n on Unalienable Rights, Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019), at https://www.state.gov/secretary-of-state-michael-r-pompeo-remarks-to-the-press-3 [https://perma.cc/V6MZ-TATP].

11 Letter from 23 Democratic U.S. Senators to Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, at 1 (July 23, 2019), available at https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/07-23-19%20Dems%20letter%20re%20Commission%20on%20Unalienable%20Rights.pdf [https://perma.cc/L9LH-ZLXP] [hereinafter Senate Letter].

12 Letter from 50 Democratic U.S. Representatives to Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, at 1 (July 18, 2019), available at https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/_cache/files/2/9/294cc9ed-3391-4fa2-968a-424f8e687dac/6B92FE10FE738FAEB3A6FB2BB7E69BC9.doc139.pdf [https://perma.cc/7XHZ-QY28] [hereinafter House Letter]. Separately, a coalition of 178 organizations and various individuals (including some prominent figures from the Obama administration) signed a public letter urging that the Commission be disbanded because it promoted a “hierarchy of rights,” reminiscent of those commonly found in autocratic governments. See generally Letter from Coal. Opposing the Comm'n on Unalienable Rights to Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State (July 23, 2019), available at https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/Unalienable-Rights-Commission-NGO-Ltr.pdf [https://perma.cc/7Z77-5TWR]. By contrast, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent commission lodged in the State Department, praised the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights as a “way of ensuring that the protection of these fundamental rights—the most foundational of which is freedom of religion or belief—is a core element of strategic policy discussions.” U.S. Comm'n on Int'l Religious Freedom Press Release, USCIRF Statement on State Department's Creation of “Commission on Unalienable Rights” (July 8, 2019), at https://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases-statements/uscirf-statement-state-department-s-creation-commission [https://perma.cc/3N63-K6AT].

13 House Letter, supra note 12, at 2; accord Senate Letter, supra note 11, at 1.

14 House Letter, supra note 12, at 1.

15 Senate Letter, supra note 11, at 2. But see Carol Morello, State Department Launches Panel Focused on Human Rights and Natural Law, Wash. Post (July 8, 2019) (quoting an unnamed State Department official as stating that the Commission “will not make any pronouncements on gay marriage and abortion”).

16 An appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives for the State Department's next fiscal year would ban the use of its funds for the Commission. Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2020, H.R. 2740, 116th Cong. § 7070 (2019). As of late September 2019, this bill remained pending in the Senate. All Actions H.R. 2740 — 116th Congress (2019–2020), Congress.gov, at https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2740/all-actions?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.+2740%22%5D%7D&s=7&r=1 [https://perma.cc/5W44-Q8TZ].

Secretary of State Establishes Commission on Unalienable Rights

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