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

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

Read the full paper.

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here

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

Racial Discrimination
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 12/8/2020. “Racial Discrimination.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-005. See full text.Abstract

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, his action honored a decades-long struggle by grassroots activists and dedicated political leaders to ensure national protection for racial equality. With the landmark agreement, Johnson fulfilled his promise, expressed in his first State of the Union speech earlier in the year, that “this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined”.  The historic legislation sought to eliminate racial discrimination on the federal level in broad categories including employment, education, voting, and public accommodations. The Civil Rights Act paved the way for other major federal laws outlawing discrimination in more targeted areas, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. 

Over half a century later, the promises of the Civil Rights Act are threatened by sustained efforts to undermine its protections for equal rights and opportunities across racial identities.

This issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series surveys the historical evolution and current status of racial discrimination within the U.S. in several key areas: criminal justice, housing, education, labor, and society at large. Next, it looks at the current status of discrimination within these five categories, including recent legislative and political efforts to weaken equal protection along racial lines. The authors provide recommendations to reinforce the government’s responsibility to uphold anti-discriminatory protections and restore individuals’ rights to equal access and protection. 

Read the paper here.

Check out other issues in our Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Series. 

Are Rights and Religion Orthogonal?
Richard Parker. 12/2/2020. “Are Rights and Religion Orthogonal?” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-13. See full text.Abstract

Talking about “rights” is to talk about a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, our system of law, our ethics, and—perhaps most deeply—our identity.

One of the rights we Americans customarily consider ours is “our right to religious freedom,” which, as enshrined in the First Amendment, is not one but two important correlate rights– our individual right to worship (or not) as we please, and our collective right (and duty) to prohibit any sort of government favoritism toward (or disfavoring of) any organized religion.

In his paper, author Richard Parker weaves the history and evolution of religious freedom into the context of human rights.  

Read the full text. 

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

How are Human Rights Universal
Eric Blumenson. 11/24/2020. “How are Human Rights Universal.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-12. See full text. Abstract

On the traditional view, human rights are universal because they belong to all human beings as such, solely in virtue of their humanity. In his paper, Blumenson explores the meaning of that claim and considers two reasons some people find it hard to accept. The first is the appeal of relativism. That appeal is all the greater now, when cultural diversity is more present than ever in one’s neighborhood, on television, and across the internet. It’s a short step from identifying differences in cultural values to identifying justice itself as culturally constructed. The second reason for doubt is also a response to the radically diverse ways of life in the world, but a simpler one: a belief that human rights universality is implausible. Even if there are moral universals, one might think them too few or too vague, and the settings of their operation too diverse, to generate anything as specific as human rights.

Read the full paper. 

Children at the border wall.

Getting Human Rights Right

November 19, 2020
In her latest op-ed for Foreign Policy, Sushma Raman writes the incoming Biden administration should adopt a pro-immigrant and refugee policy, "whereby immigrants and refugees are not just framed national security threats, but as assets."
Money in Politics
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/18/2020. “Money in Politics.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-003. See full text.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

Women's March Washington, D.C.

How to Stop a Power Grab

November 16, 2020

According to Erica Chenoweth, there is no one, single moment when a country crosses from a democracy into an autocracy. Instead, as she tells The New Yorker, "The norms and institutions can grow weaker over years, or decades, without people noticing."

AI Principle Proliferation as a Crisis of Legitimacy
Mark Latonero. 9/30/2020. “AI Principle Proliferation as a Crisis of Legitimacy.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-011. See full text.Abstract

While Artificial Intelligence is a burgeoning field today, there is a growing concern about the mushrooming of proposed principles on how AI should be governed.

In his latest Carr Center discussion paper, fellow Mark Latonero posits that human rights could serve to stabilize AI governance, particularly if framed as an anchor to guide AI usage that could avert both everyday and catastrophic social harms.

Read the full document here. 

Dangerous Science: Might Population Genetics or Artificial Intelligence Undermine Philosophical Ideas about Equality?
Mathias Risse. 8/17/2020. “Dangerous Science: Might Population Genetics or Artificial Intelligence Undermine Philosophical Ideas about Equality?” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-010. See full text.Abstract

This paper was prepared for an interdisciplinary conference on Gefährliche Forschung? (Dangerous Science?) held at the University of Cologne in February 2020 and is scheduled to appear in a volume of contributions from that event edited by Wilfried Hinsch and Susanne Brandstätter, the organizers, and to be published by de Gruyter. The paper delves into the question proposed to me—might population genetics or artificial intelligence undermine philosophical ideas about equality—without locating the context of this debate or offering a preview of its contents. The first section discusses the ideal of equality, the next two talk about genetics in the context of responses to racism, and the remaining two speak about possible changes that might come from the development of general Artificial Intelligence.

Read full text here