VAWA's Long March to Reauthorization


By: Jon Kyl
By: Jon Kyl
Date: April 30, 2012

By U.S. Senator Jon Kyl

I am a long-time supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

VAWA is an important law that gives law-enforcement officers, social-service organizations, and courts tools to prevent domestic violence. In the unfortunate cases when preventive measures are too late, VAWA also helps bring justice to the victims of these crimes, and it helps punish those who commit them. Most agree that the law has helped reduce domestic violence; in fact, recent figures show that intimate-partner violence has declined by about 67 percent since the law was first proposed.

I supported reauthorization of the law in 2000, and I helped write the reauthorization in 2005. Both reauthorizations passed the Senate unanimously, and they were signed into law by presidents of different political parties.

So, I was surprised when the president and Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid tried to make a political issue out of the most recent reauthorization last week.

The Democrat leader offered a bill, S. 1925, that proposed to do much more than just reauthorize VAWA, as had always been done in the past. It included new provisions that its sponsors knew would make it impossible for a majority of both parties to support the legislation. As a result, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison offered an alternative that hewed more closely to existing law. I supported that version and opposed the one offered by Senator Reid.

Reid's bill included at least one unconstitutional provision. It proposed granting Indian tribes the jurisdiction to arrest, prosecute, and imprison non-Indians under tribal law. In addition to contravening 200 years of American legal tradition, that provision -- by subjecting individuals to the criminal jurisdiction of a government from which they are excluded on account of race -- would quite plainly violate the Constitution's guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process. Another such provision proposed allowing a tribe to bar individuals (including those who are not members of the tribe) from land that they own within the exterior boundaries of an Indian reservation -- in other words, barring them from entering their own property.

Proponents argued that these provisions were intended to provide a higher level of protection from domestic violence. The alternative offered by Senator Hutchison would have replaced the unconstitutional parts I mentioned with an authority for tribes to seek protective orders from federal courts to prevent domestic violence. Unfortunately, the substitute was not accepted by the majority.

This is not the end of the story, however. The House of Representatives will soon vote on its own version of VAWA, and it is very likely the House will follow the bipartisan tradition of reauthorizing the act without including unconstitutional or partisan provisions. I am hopeful that the Senate will take up such a House-passed bill, and I look forward to supporting it myself so that we can get it to the president quickly for his signature.