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

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.

image of charts and graphs

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

Civic Education

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/30/2020. “Civic Education.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-004. See full text.
Civic Education

Abstract:

A well-informed citizenry is essential in a democracy to preserve American values and make sound decisions in every area, from the school board meeting to the voting booth. Yet, arguably, in no other way have Americans fallen so short from what the Framers intended than in their understanding of and participation in democratic governance. A 2019 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that only 39 percent of respondents could name all three branches of government, and 22 percent could not name any. Voting rates average only 56 percent in presidential elections, and are as low as 40 percent in mid-terms, ranking the U.S. far below most other democracies in voting participation. In short, the American people are not well-informed about their own government, do not turn out to vote in high numbers, and do not engage significantly in politics and civics.

In addition to providing a set of policy recommendations, this issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series outlines historical origins of civic education, the status of state and federal requirement, the dearth of federal funding, and the current political tensions within civic education. 

Read the full paper here.  

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here

: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Nov 30 2020
: A well-informed citizenry is essential in a democracy to preserve American values and make sound decisions in every area, from the school board meeting to the voting booth.
Last updated on 11/30/2020

Money in Politics

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/18/2020. “Money in Politics.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-003. See full text.
Money in Politics

Abstract:

As Yogi Berra once said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” Nothing could be truer when it comes to money in American politics. In the 2000 election, candidates and outside groups spent a combined $3 billion on the presidential and congressional races. Not two decades later, in 2016, the amount spent more than doubled to a combined $6.5 billion. For 2020, forecasters project that the total amount spent on political advertising alone will reach $10 billion.

There’s a simple reason for this exponential rise in political expenditures: the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment to preclude the regulation of many aspects of campaign finance. That decision in 1976 first opened the floodgates of contributions to political campaigns.

 

"Nowhere is money felt more than in the explosion of spending by outside groups to elect and influence candidates in the past decade, which have simultaneously increased amounts while decreasing accountability."

 

In this issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the U.S. paper series, the authors outline how the bipartisan use of money in politics undermines the democratic process. 

Read the full report.  

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here

: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Nov 18 2020
: The bipartisan use of money in politics  undermines the democratic process. 
Last updated on 11/30/2020

Voting Rights

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/6/2020. Voting Rights. Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States. 2020002nd ed. Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Read the Report
Voting Rights

Abstract:

After more than a century of expanding the voting rights of previously disenfranchised groups, the American electoral system today is confronted by political and legal maneuvers to curtail the hard-won rights of these same groups, ostensibly in the name of combating fraud and regulating voting, but actually to change the outcome of elections. 

"Political campaigns to suppress or dilute votes corrode democracy, frustrate the popular will, and stimulate polarization."

Attacks on the integrity of the electoral system are not new. Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century dominant political forces suppressed voting by African Americans and other minorities, women, immigrants, and young people. Manipulation of voting in the 20th century included racist suppression of African American votes, first by Democrats and later by Republicans. These practices are blatant examples of the vulnerability of the electoral process to partisan manipulation and the necessity of reform to safeguard voting rights, especially among these vulnerable groups.

In his timely addition to the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilites in the U.S. paper series, authors John Shattuck, Mathias Risse, and team outline the expansion of the vote through history, the disproportionate impact of voter suppression, and propose a set of policy recommendations accordingly.

Read the full report. 

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here

 

 

: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Nov 6 2020
: Political campaigns to suppress or dilute votes corrode democracy, frustrate the popular will, and stimulate polarization.
Last updated on 11/30/2020

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

Citation:

John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 10/8/2020. “Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-01. See full text.
Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty

Abstract:

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. Transformations have occurred at other pivotal moments in our nation’s history—at its founding during the American Revolution, its Reconstruction after the Civil War, its recovery from the Great Depression, its rise after World War II, and its reimagining during the Civil Rights Movement. Can today become a similar moment of transformation, turning threats into opportunities through the power of civic activism, voting, and government response? Can we reimagine the promise of rights that bind us together as a nation of diverse histories, identities, and lived experiences? 
 
With the release of their nonpartisan, evidence-based report, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values. This blueprint for protecting and expanding citizens’ rights proposes policy changes to strengthen democratic processes; safeguard equal protection, equal opportunity, and due process of law; and better protect freedoms of speech, media, religion and privacy. The Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Project is directed by John Shattuck, Carr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The report and the project are overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse.
 
The report offers an in-depth analysis of the state of rights in America in 2020, and then offers 80 recommendations to address failures to protect these rights. The Reimagining Rights team researched fifteen topics in five broad categories that are fundamental to protecting and expanding citizens’ rights. The Carr Center will continue to publish the fifteen reports in the coming months that expand upon specific rights domains in greater detail, including voting rights, money in politics, civic education, racial equality, women’s rights, and other areas of research. Sign up for our newsletter and follow our social media channels to stay up-to-date as we release each report.

Read the Executive Summary.

 

Read the Additional Reports: 

  1. Voting Rights
  2. Money in Politics
  3. Civic Education
  4. Racial Discrimination
  5. Women's Rights
  6. LGBTQ+ Rights
  7. Disability Rights
  8. Equal Access
  9. Immigration
  10. Criminal Justice & Public Safety
  11. Gun Rights & Public Safety
  12. Freedom of Speech & Media
  13. Religious Freedom
  14. Hate Crimes
  15. Privacy, Personal Data, and Surveillance
: John Shattuck, Mathias Risse | Oct 8 2020
: Researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values.
Last updated on 02/26/2021

George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America

Citation:

Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck. 6/1/2020. “George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America.” Boston Globe. See full text.
George Floyd and the History of Police Brutality in America

Abstract:

Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck discuss the history of racist policing and violence against African Americans in the U.S.

 

The horrific death, captured on video, of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, spotlights the longstanding crisis of racism in policing.

To understand the protests that have erupted across the United States, one needs to understand the deeply troubled history of policing and race. Police brutality, racial discrimination, and violence against minorities are intertwined and rooted throughout US history. Technology has made it possible for the level and extent of the problem finally to be publicly documented. The anger expressed in the wake of Floyd’s killing reflects the searing reality that Black people in the United States continue to be dehumanized and treated unjustly.

 

: John Shattuck et al. | June 1 2020
: Kadijatou Diallo and John Shattuck discuss the history of racist policing and violence against African Americans in the U.S.

Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Citation:

Gerald L. Neuman. 4/30/2020. “Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-007. See full text.
Submission to the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Abstract:

The Charter of the Commission on Unalienable Rights includes the objective of proposing “reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This mission statement has prompted concern among some observers that the Commission is being asked to redirect U.S. human rights policy in ways that would be self-defeating and would create serious damage to international cooperation for the protection of human rights. In his address, Neuman addresses the claim that there are too many human rights; the protection of diverse sexuality; the equal priority of economic/social rights and civil/political rights; the usefulness of “natural law” at the international level; and the question of privileging freedom of religious conduct over other human rights.

Read the full paper here.

Gerald L. Neuman is the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, and the Co-Director of the Human Rights Program at HLS. He teaches human rights, constitutional law, and immigration and nationality law. His current research focuses on international human rights bodies, transnational dimensions of constitutionalism, and rights of foreign nationals. He is the author of Strangers to the Constitution: Immigrants, Borders and Fundamental Law (Princeton 1996), and co-author of the casebook Human Rights (with Louis Henkin et al., Foundation Press).

: Gerald Neuman | Apr 30 2020
: Neuman addresses a myriad of human rights concerns to the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
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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