Violence Against Women Act Spurs Conservative Opposition; Profs. Urge Passage, While Noting Bill’s Shortcomings

March 2, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Does one really need another example of Washington gridlock? Likely not, especially if you read this blog from time to time, where obstruction of judicial nominations is noted often. But we’ll note one anyway, not for the process, but more as an example of just how ridiculous it’s all becoming.

As noted, possibly wryly by an editorial from The New York Times even in the “ultrapolarized atmosphere of Capitol Hill,” one would think that reauthorization of a once wildly bipartisan effort to combat violence against women could remain an exception to the out-of-control congressional obstructionism.

Last month, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee could not muster one Republican vote in favor of “a well-crafted reauthorization,” of the Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support since its inception in 1994. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), not a member of the Judiciary Committee, are sponsoring the reauthorization measure.

Reporting for The Huffington Post, Amanda Terkel, notes that several of the measure’s enhanced features have irked conservatives. Not surprisingly increased protections for minorities, specifically for the LGBT community, Native American women and immigrants, have spurred conservative lawmakers’ opposition.

The reauthorization measure for instance includes more funding for tribal groups to prosecute domestic violence, and provides some limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute violence committed on tribal lands by those who are not living on the land or not members of the community.

As Terkel notes, Sen. Charles Grassley the Judiciary Committee Ranking Member has also complained about the reauthorization bill’s enhanced support of services for undocumented women.

Committee Chairman Leahy (pictured) blasted the opposition for thwarting a noble proposition to provide protections to a larger number of women who are daily victims of domestic violence.

Norma Gattsek, director of government relations for the Feminist Majority, also knocked Republican opposition of the reauthorization. She called it an “outrage” that Republican’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to support it.

The Times’ Feb. 9 editorial said the Republican opposition appeared “driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.”

A group of academics, as noted by the Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, is urging reauthorization of the VAWA, albeit with a call that more actually needs to be done to confront ongoing and pervasive violence against a wide array of women.

Violence against varying groups of women, the professors explain, is having profound effects on the ability of those women to succeed in this country, and is adding to the nation’s festering economic inequality, the professors write.

The group includes Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, University of Miami School of Law, Donna Coker, University of Miami School of Law, Julie Goldscheid, CUNY Law School, Leigh Goodmark, University of Baltimore School of Law, Valli Kalei Kanuha, sociology department, University of Hawaii, James Ptacek, sociology, Suffolk University, and Deborah Weissman, UNC School of Law.

Though the professors applaud the reauthorization bill for funding for “critical services and includes important law reform that will improve women’s access to justice,” they note that it also falters.

For instance, Congress should focus more on fighting economic inequality that research shows helps domestic violence fester.

“Research shows that downward mobility and economic inequality weakens social controls in neighborhoods, giving rise to increases in domestic violence,” the professors write. 

Federal legislation should, they continue, “encourage jurisdictions to link job training or job placement with batterer treatment programs, incorporate domestic violence awareness and programs within every community-based response to the economic crisis, provide more meaningful and targeted funds to help women achieve economic stability, and amend the Trade Adjustment Assistance and Workforce Investment statutes to include domestic violence screening and services.”

Among other suggestions, the professors highlight dwindling legal services funding. “Poor women of color, immigrant women and undocumented women, and Native American women face substantial bias both from service providers and courts, particularly in child abuse and neglect proceedings and in family court. It is critical that victims of domestic violence have zealous advocates who can ensure equal access to justice.”

For more information on another sticking point for conservatives, see the ACS Issue Brief on the efforts to counter domestic violence “in Indian Country by Restoring Tribal Sovereignty” by law professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher.

Fletcher, professor at Michigan State University College of Law, wrote that many violent crimes against Native American women are not prosecuted, in part because the tribal governments are unable to prosecute non-Indians.

Fletcher says the states and federal courts that do have jurisdiction are not helping the matter because “they rarely prosecute these kinds of cases due to lack of resources and other factors have not helped the lack of jurisdiction over these crimes Congress has the authority to fix this gap in the law, but has not done so.”

The conservative opposition to the VAWA reauthorization measure doesn’t bode well for the senators trying to effectively help more victims of domestic violence.