Donald Trump is known for many things, but an interest in philosophical questions or intellectual history is not among them. Therefore is is surprising, to say the least, that the Trump administration has suddenly become interested in exploring the relationship between human rights and natural law, is planning to define the former in terms of the latter as a matter of official policy.

To this effect, as POLITICO reports on May 30, Trump's State Department is planning to set up a panel to examine the express question of whether human rights should be defines according to concepts of natural law, a much older concept that goes back all the way to the period of ancient Greek philosophy, including Plato, Aristotle and the even earlier Heraclitus, as well as forming the basis of the thought of history's greatest Catholic philosopher. See, POLITICO,

State Department to launch new human rights panel stressing 'natural law'

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/30/human-rights-state-department-1348014

It is not known whether Trump plans to attend sessions of this panel himself, or whether he will be off playing golf.

While at first glance lt might seem to be commendable that the Trump administration, which has come under attack from human rights advocates for violating the human rights of asylum seekers by trying to limit their ability to file asylum application and by adopting an overly restrictive definition of who is for asylum, not to mention its brutal and inhumane but now abandoned child separation policy of a year ago, is now interested in even talking about human rights.

Buth the State Department's announcement, which appeared in the Federal Register, shows that, behind the academic-sounding verbiage, the apparent purpose of the new panel, is to find an excuse for narrowing the definition of human rights in order to shield the administration from accusations of violating them, both in matters relating to immigration and beyond. The Federal Register notice states:

"The Commission will provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principle of natural law and natural rights."

Are we witnessing a new kind of "originalism" by the administration, analogous to the doctrine which Supreme Court conservatives had been using as a pretext to limit rights guaranteed by the Constatution as narrowly as possible?

The same report, mentions that advocates for other vulnerable groups are concerned that the proposed redefinition of human rights may be used against women and LGBT's The same concern is certainly warranted for immigrant advocates, especially, since the Trump administration has fought tooth an nail to prevent the UN and other international organization from adopting or applying human rights principles to immigration policy.

In my next comment on this topic, I will explore the history of natural law and show how using that concept to define human rights could lead to sharply curtailing those rights. On cannot help but wonderif the fine hand of Stephen Miller, one of Trump's main experts at providing intellectual justiciation for bigoted immigration policies, might not be involved in this new initiative.

Roger Algase
Attorney at Law