CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Mike Lee
Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Location: Unknown

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COOPER: He gave that speech on the Senate floor just before the vote.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah was one of the 38 Republicans who voted against the U.N. treaty. He agreed to talk to us tonight. He's a constitutional lawyer, was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Alito. We spoke a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator, you have said this treaty will somehow change U.S. law or could change U.S. law. Former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who helped negotiate this treaty on behalf of President George Bush, said emphatically it would have no effect on U.S. law, not now, not ever. Is he wrong?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Well, I respectfully disagree with the former attorney general's conclusions.

I look at the treaty and I see one provision that arguably sets in place international entitlement rights, another provision that can be read to undermine the rights of parents to make decisions on how best to educate and otherwise care for their children with disabilities, and another provision of the treaty that can be read to obligate the United States government to pay for abortion services.

COOPER: You're just interpreting things. It doesn't -- it never uses the word abortion. It basically says that disabled people should have the same access to health care that other people have, that non- disabled people have overseas. Again, we're talking about overseas.

LEE: It does refer to reproductive rights, and reproductive rights in this context has been interpreted to include abortion, and this is...

COOPER: Interpreted by you.

(CROSSTALK)

LEE: Yes, and a number of other people who looked at it as well. The point is that if this does mean something, and if it could mean something, it could impact U.S. law.

COOPER: But this treaty states it's not self-executing. And the U.S. Supreme Court has said that a non-self-executing treaty doesn't create obligations that could be enforced in U.S. federal courts.

LEE: The fact that it may be non-self-executing, Anderson, doesn't mean that it doesn't have any impact at all. It just means that you might not be able to bring a lawsuit arising under that treaty.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But it doesn't become the law of the U.S.

LEE: Actually, it does.

Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution says any treaty ratified by a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate does become the supreme law of the land. This could come up in litigation. And although you couldn't have a cause of action arising directly under this treaty, it could come up and it could have an impact on the court's interpretation of U.S. law.

COOPER: Can you name...

LEE: And it could become part of U.S. law.

COOPER: Can you name any other U.N. treaty that has forced changes in U.S. law?

LEE: I didn't come prepared to cite Supreme Court precedent on this point, but it's a...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But what you're saying is totally hypothetical. You're using a bunch of hypotheticals saying they're going to -- this is going to force abortion rights for people -- for example, people overseas, this is -- some groups are saying children with glasses are going to be taken from their parents. You're using all these very scary hypotheticals.

You can't even cite one case where a U.N. treaty has ever impacted U.S. law?

LEE: Not aware of one person who is saying children with glasses are going to be taken away from their parents.

The Article 7 concern from the treaty relates to the fact that the best interests of the child standard will be injected into decisions, regarding how best to educate and otherwise care for a disabled child.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Again, you can't name one U.N. treaty that has ever had an impact on U.S. law?

LEE: Well, I can't name one U.S. treaty that has been the deciding factor in a decision. It may well happen. I didn't come prepared to cite Supreme Court precedent to you today.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I know, but you have been on the floor of the Senate arguing vigorously against this, and you have had weeks and weeks to prepare on this. It just seems to be basing your decision on complete hypotheticals when there has never been a case that you can cite of a U.N. treaty -- again, this is a U.N. treaty -- affecting U.S. law.

LEE: OK. Look, the fact that it may not have happened in exactly the way that you describe it doesn't mean that it couldn't happen.

COOPER: U.S. law already has the Americans With Disabilities Act. But that law is not recognized in multiple countries overseas, and this is a treaty which is trying to basically just raise standards in other countries overseas. It's basically just trying to encourage, you know, the better treatment of disabled people around the world.

LEE: Look, U.S. law, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, already provides the worldwide gold standard on the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

There are lots of ways that we can promote and encourage other countries to do this without agreeing to an international convention that will be administered and overseen by a U.N. body sitting in Geneva, Switzerland.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, by that argument, you really don't support any kind of U.N. treaties, because you're saying the whole idea of kind of U.N. treaties that countries sign on to, you don't like that idea at all?

LEE: Typically, Anderson, we use treaties to deal with international relations, to deal with the law of nations acting on the world scene. This deals with a lot of issues that are distinctively domestic in nature.

COOPER: There are those who say that your objection to this and the objection of many groups has more to do with basically a dislike of the U.N. and any kind of thing that comes out of the U.N. And you sort of painted this picture that U.N. bureaucrats in Geneva are going to be telling parents in Utah how to raise their disabled child.

But is there any case that you can cite where U.N. bureaucrats in Geneva have been able to tell American parents how to do anything or American citizens how to do anything?

LEE: No, there's not, Anderson, but the fact that something like that hasn't happened, the fact that they haven't succeeded in telling people how to live their lives from their perch in a U.N. office doesn't mean that we shouldn't be concerned about it here.

COOPER: I'm just trying to look for facts, and I just don't see the facts of the concerns that have been raised.

I understand the hypothetical concern, but just based on the history of the U.N., it's been around for a long time, I would think if this was the internationalization of laws and U.S. having to sort of kowtow to U.N. law, I think that would have already happened in some case. And I just don't see it.

LEE: Well, you can't assume that because something hasn't happened already, that it couldn't happen in the future. And it doesn't render it a hypothetical concern simply because it hasn't arisen to this level up to this point.

We do need to be concerned about the direction in which our law moves, and that's what's motivating my concerns here.

COOPER: Senator Lee, I appreciate your time and your perspective. Thank you very much.

LEE: Thanks, Anderson.

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