The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization recently passed by Congress has some serious flaws (and it isn’t just that it looks fat in that dress or cries after every episode of Downton Abbey).
House Republicans caved in the legislation’s passage last Thursday after their own slightly more reasoned version of the bill was rejected. The passed version, designed to suck up to minorities and women, is an expensive assault on civil rights and should be flushed.
Namely, the reauthorization expands the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians charged with domestic violence. Indian women are unusually vulnerable to domestic violence, in the sense that if their attackers are non-Indian, they cannot be prosecuted by Indian courts. Such instances of domestic violence also fall outside the jurisdiction of state courts. There is a problem here, but empowering Indian courts to violate the constitutional rights of Americans isn’t the solution.
VAWA gives Indian tribal courts the ability “to adjudicate certain domestic violence criminal charges against non-Indians and to enter a final judgment authorizing the confinement of convicted offenders.”
Indian courts can’t exert such power over American citizens. The Constitution forbids unauthorized actors from exercising federal power (after all, who wants more than one federal government to complain about?). VAWA offers up American citizens to tribal judges who aren’t appointed by the president, don’t have certain constitutional characteristics of American courts, and don’t have to respect the civil rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.
By signing VAWA, President Obama will become the only president to authorize the assasinations of American citizens AND offer them up to a foreign power.
In other news, President Obama wants you to know: “I am not a dictator.”
Heritage offers some solutions to the problem. Congress could “[g]ive every defendant (1) an automatic right to remove a case to federal district court, or (2) a right to a trial de novo before a federal district judge after conviction in tribal court.”
This way the suspected aggressor would have a choice to be tried in federal court, or have his case heard by a federal judge on appeal with a clean slate.
Also, if tribes want to prosecute in cases of domestic violence, they could become federal tribal courts in a way that’s in harmony with Articles II and III of the Constitution. Congress would be well within its power to allow it, and it would be a better alternative to the witlessly titled Violence Against Women Act.
Absent constitutional issues, VAWA is just another misguided, expensive federal program. There is no convincing evidence that the law (with a price tag of $660 million every year) reduces violence against women. Dr. Angela Moore Parmley of the U.S. Department of Justice explains: “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.”
The DOJ’s study of crime actually notes that the violent crime rate dropped significantly more than domestic violence, an offshoot of the overall drop in crime. Speaking of which, while crime has steadily decreased over the last 25 years, gun ownership has conversely increased.
Let’s have the Violence Against Everyone Act where you don’t have to worry about being assaulted and you can keep your gun. It’s also a better name since “between a quarter and half of all domestic violence victims are men” (the data varies depending on how many men aren’t embarrassed to report their wives for beating them when the “who wore it best?” segment didn’t go the way they wanted).
VAWA supercedes state authority to manage domestic violence, it tosses around feminist pork to special interests, it’s a misguided top-down “solution” to the problem, and it has serious constitutional conflicts. President Obama shouldn’t sign it — but he will.
Keith Fierro | Cal State Fullerton | @KJFierro