Reimagining Rights & Responsibilities

What are the rights and responsibilities that define the relationship of people to the government, and to each other?

In contrast to nations rooted in the blood ties of their people, the United States is built on a belief that the relationship of citizens to their government and to each other should be defined by rights and responsibilities. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln expressed a vision of the United States as “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all [people] are created equal.”  Lincoln understood the promise and the challenge of human rights in the U.S.  

Human Rights, to Lincoln, promised to bind together a nation of diverse racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and political identities. Intolerance and injustice would challenge this promise. Meeting this challenge has required the constant renewal of rights to confront the legacy of slavery, the racism of the post-reconstruction era, the injustice of the Great Depression and the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century.  Today we again face the challenge.   

What are the rights and responsibilities that define the relationship of people to the government and to each other? The system of rights expressed by the U.S. Constitution, and later by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is facing severe threats today. The principle of free and fair elections is being subverted.  Racial, gender and religious discrimination, extremism and violence are being stimulated, condoned or ignored. Public discourse essential to democracy is being manipulated and degraded by new forms of digital communication, surveillance and personal data collection. Americans across the political spectrum are aware that their rights are under severe attack. This consensus creates a rare opportunity to reach people with different and competing conceptions of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and to build support for reform and renewal of the entire system.

 

Explore the Project

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Latest poll shows Americans Support Strengthening U.S. Civil Rights Laws

A national survey of American attitudes toward rights and responsibilities in the United States finds that large majorities now favor strengthening the nation’s civil rights laws, despite continuing partisan division.

Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty

Americans today know they face threats to their rights, their democracy, their health and their economy. These threats are interrelated and demand a transformative response.

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National survey finds bipartisan support for expansive view of rights

At a time of deep partisan and demographic divides related to the 2020 election, 71% of Americans agree that they “have more in common with each other than many people think.”

Select Publications

Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/10/2021. “Criminal Justice and Public Safety.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 011. See full text.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety

Abstract:

Starting with the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, and gaining steam throughout the next decade, the prevailing view on criminal justice was that “tough on crime laws make crime rates go down.” That sentiment was predicated on the notion that criminals were not being sufficiently punished for their offenses, and that sentences must be increased—including mandatory minimums and “three strikes laws”—both to remove criminals from communities, and to deter others from committing crimes. The incarceration rate more than tripled between 1980 and its peak in 2008, from 310 to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults—some 2.3 million people in all. Today, the United States leads the world in incarceration, with a rate more than 4 times that of comparable democracies in Western Europe.

Reform of the criminal justice system must take into account each stage of the process, respecting the due process rights of individuals throughout their interaction with the system while at the same time bringing criminals to justice and improving overall public safety.

Read the paper.

See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series.

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 10 2021
: Reform of the criminal justice system must take into account each stage of the process while at the same time bringing criminals to justice and improving overall public safety.
Last updated on 02/16/2021

Immigration

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/4/2021. “Immigration.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 10. See full text.
Immigration

Full Text

The United States is a nation of immigrants. For centuries, waves of migrants and refugees have arrived in America seeking economic opportunity or religious freedom. While many have found what they desired, and assimilated into American culture, many others have encountered persecution, resentment, and xenophobia. As the third rail of American politics, immigration has long been a source of controversy, with policy split between two competing visions of what the country could be: on the one hand, a rights-oriented, humanitarian vision that imagines open doors to opportunity and shelter; on the other hand, an exclusionary and Ameri-centric vision that imagines protected, walled-off borders. Recently, our politics and media have been flooded with images of the latter: children piled into cages at detention camps, migrant caravans “invading” the southern border, endless fights in the courts over walls and travel bans. These images did not originate with the Trump administration—previous presidents have also pursued anti-immigration policies on asylum and deportations—though the current administration has greatly exacerbated them. 

Building on the well-established legal foundation for a rights-based vision of immigration, comprehensive reform in due process and humanitarian protections are necessary for those arriving at our borders.

Read the full paper

See the other issues of our Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 4 2021
: Comprehensive reform in due process and humanitarian protections are necessary for those arriving at our borders.
Last updated on 02/05/2021

Equal Access to Public Goods and Services

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/2/2021. “Equal Access to Public Goods and Services.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 009. See full text.
Equal Access to Public Goods and Services

Abstract:

A right of equal access to public goods and services is rooted in the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ With these rights, the Declaration of Independence asserts the concept of equality as a founding principle, while nearly a century later in the nation’s “second founding” after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution goes further in guaranteeing equal protection of the law. These documents create the principle from which a right of equal access is derived, including access to education, health care, housing, and environmental protection.

Throughout American history, the concepts of liberty and equality have been intertwined but also conflicted. 

Current trends within public education, health care, housing, and environmental protection reflect burgeoning disparities in opportunity. Public policy in recent years has centered around the promotion of macroeconomic growth but has done little to guarantee individual and societal well-being, reinforcing the focus of the private sector on maximizing shareholder value, often at the expense of employees and consumers. These policies have exacerbated the inequality of access to public goods and services, such as health and education, among significant portions of the population, who lack the agency and the opportunity to sustain themselves. It is critical that the United States responds to the public health and economic crises by protecting liberty, equality, and securing equal access to public goods and services.

Read the full paper. 

 

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Feb 2 2021
: The U.S. must respond to the public health and economic crises by protecting liberty, equality, and securing equal access to public goods and services.
Last updated on 02/02/2021

Disability Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 1/21/2021. “Disability Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 008. See full text.
Disability Rights

Abstract:

Nearly 61 million Americans have a disability, making the group the country’s largest minority. Individuals with disabilities cut across race, gender, and sexual orientation. Since people with disabilities are disproportionately older, they have also made up an expanding share of the general population as the U.S. population has aged. Unlike other more fixed identities, any person can become disabled at any time, due to severe injury, illness, trauma, pregnancy, or simply aging. In fact, while only 11% of people under ages 18 to 64 reported having a disability in 2017, 35% of people ages 65 and over reported having one, illustrating the fluid nature of disability status.

Disabilities include a range of conditions, both visible and invisible, and including physical, mental, and cognitive impairments—all of which require different types of protection against different types of discrimination. These complexities make understanding and advancing disability rights more challenging. Moreover, people with disabilities continue to face challenges as a result of policies that affect them both directly and indirectly. Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires both reinstating and extending equal protections, and affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society. 

Read the full paper. 

See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities project here

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Jan 21 2021
: Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires reinstating and extending equal protections to affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society. 
Last updated on 01/21/2021

LGBTQ Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck, Mathias Risse, and Timothy Patrick McCarthy. 1/6/2021. “LGBTQ Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 007.
LGBTQ Rights

Abstract:

"Queer" people have always been here—since antiquity, they’ve lived across communities and intersections of every class, color, creed, condition, and country. Though not always marked as “deviant” or designated “illegal,” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have also more often than not been victims of personal prejudice, social and cultural stigma, and legal and political discrimination. This has certainly been the case in the modern era, the same time that “human rights” has gained currency and frequency as a rallying cry for various struggles and peoples seeking freedom, equality, and justice. That’s is not a coincidence: as the formal infrastructure of human rights and state-sanctioned homophobia expanded simultaneously in the middle of the 20th century, so, too, did the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States first emerge. This “paradox of progress”—the persistent battle between progress and prejudice—is a key characteristic of the history of social justice movements, including those for queer liberation and rights.

 

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

: John Shattuck et al. | Jan 6 2021
: After centuries of discrimination and abuse dating back to Colonial America, the birth of LGBTQ activism in the 20th century secured fundamental rights and freedoms for LGBTQ people.
Last updated on 07/19/2021

Women's Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 1/4/2020. “Women's Rights.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 006. See full text.
Women's Rights

Abstract:

 

“I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”

- Shirley Chisholm

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm made history as the first African American woman to seek a nomination from a major political party as a candidate for President of the United States. Prior to her campaign, Chisholm served in the House of Representatives for seven terms, co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, served on the House Rules Committee, and introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation. Despite those accomplishments, her presidential campaign was marked by discrimination, as she was barred from participating in primary debates, and was allowed to make a single televised speech only after she took legal action. While Chisholm’s presidential campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, she nevertheless opened up many doors for women in politics, and in equal rights more broadly. Since then, women have been appointed to the Supreme Court, led major House and Senate committees, and served as Secretary of State.

This issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series analyzes the current state of women’s rights in the U.S., and proposes policy recommendations designed to advance them.

The paper examines how identity influences women’s experiences and provides historical context on women’s rights; assesses the current state of women’s rights in the areas of employment, education, poverty, domestic violence, health, and civil society; and offers policy recommendations that are designed to advance women’s rights moving forward.

 

 Read the full paper. 

Discover other issues in the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

: John Shattuck and Mathias Risse | Jan 4 2021
: Assessing the current state of women’s rights in the United States, and offering policy recommendations designed to advance them.
Last updated on 01/19/2021
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News and Announcements

Op Ed

Americans have more in common than you might think

September 16, 2020

In his latest op-ed for the Boston Globe, John Shattuck describes findings from his team's national survey, noting that Americans have a more expansive view of their rights and freedoms. 

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In contrast to nations rooted in the blood ties of their people, the U.S. is rooted in the belief that the relationship of citizens to their government and to each other is defined by a system of rights that expresses the core values of American democracy.

- John Shattuck