A Virginia trial court judge's ruling against the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) causes us great concern and shows the need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women's equality. Just as Rodney King had the right to file a federal lawsuit to prove that race-based violence was a violation of his civil rights, Christy Brzonkala must not be denied the right to seek justice for sex-based violence that violates her civil rights.
Although the ruling released today by a Roanoke, Va., judge is a terrible setback for plaintiff Brzonkala, a Connecticut ruling upholding VAWA makes it likely the law's constitutionality will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. The new protections women won under this 1994 law are the most important advances for women's civil rights since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Without downplaying the importance of funding and programs VAWA provides, the conceptual breakthrough that sex-based violence is a violation of women's basic civil rights was a milestone in U.S. lawmaking.
No matter how far Justice Antonin Scalia may fear Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the court's majority have moved toward recognizing that sex-based discrimination violates the Constitution, it is obviously not far enough and clear enough for U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser of Roanoke, who ruled against Brzonkala, and for many others judges. (Ironically, VAWA funding that would have provided training for federal and state judges was cut in fiscal 1996.)
Judge Kiser's ruling is bad law and flies in the face of reality. Congress correctly concluded that sex-based crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault have an adverse impact on interstate commerce and violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
These hate crimes diminish women's productivity, increase medical and other costs, and deter women from full participation in the economic, social and political life of this country. State law enforcement and criminal justice systems fail to provide women a remedy for violent hate crimes and thus deny us equal protection.
This ruling shows the need for a renewed campaign for an amendment guaranteeing
women's constitutional equality. While this may seem to be a daunting challenge
in today's political climate, feminist activists draw inspiration from
suffragists who worked for 75 years to win women the right to vote.
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