Lame Duck Threat: Violence Against Women Act
With the election behind us, Congress will convene a lame-duck session. This series will highlight major issues facing Congress that may be decided by defeated and retiring lawmakers.
Issue Description: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994 with the supposed purpose of better protecting women from domestic violence; yet, since its inception, there has been no effort on the part of the government to actually measure the effectiveness of the law. Billions of dollars and other resources have been squandered by the federal government on efforts that should be reserved to the states according to the Constitution and on programs that are duplicated by other federal programs.
Why Lame-Duck: Lynn Rosenthal, the Obama administration’s adviser on VAWA, has indicated that coming to an agreement on VAWA is a high priority for the lame-duck session and that “work has already begun on our end to make this happen.” Moreover, there are a number of coalitions and lobbyist groups putting pressure on Congress to act on the renewal of VAWA since they believe that failing to do so will be essentially backtracking.
Conservative Position: Violence against any group of people is wrong. Thus, this law may at first seem a reasonable and even perhaps a laudable effort on the part of the federal government, which is certainly how advocates have tried to paint it. However, the law is fundamentally flawed for several reasons which are only highlighted by the fact that VAWA has not “undergone large-scale, scientifically rigorous evaluations for effectiveness.” The law is characterized by the following flaws:
- This law is duplicative and redundant in two major ways. First, each state has statues that punish domestic violence. According to the Constitution, police power is reserved to the states which should be an immediate red flag about the legitimacy of this law. Moreover, Heritage reminds us that “the states have laws to protect all citizens from crimes against them, including violence against women.” Second, the programs enacted by VAWA are also duplicative of other federal programs designed to accomplish the same goals.
- VAWA has evolved into something very different from the original 1994 law. The Senate VAWA reauthorization bill, S. 1925, includes “radical changes that greatly alter the original purpose and scope of the law, already problematic in its own right,” according to Heritage’s David B. Muhlhausen and Christina Villegas. The expansions of VAWA include extensions of protection to men and prisoners (groups already protected by other anti-violence laws).
- For the first time in the America’s history VAWA would “extend the criminal jurisdiction of tribal courts to people who are not members of an Indian tribe and who are accused of domestic violence that allegedly occurred on tribal territory.”