The House today voted in favor of re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act. After first considering a version backed by House conservatives, protecting the rights of the accused by removing a provision giving tribal authorities jurisdiction over non-tribal members, they passed the Senate version of the law.
Here in North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (who, as a former prosecutor, ought to know better) is trumpeting victory. Congressman Kevin Cramer, who voted for both iterations of the bill, explained his vote on the floor of the House noting that his adopted son was orphaned through an act of violence against his mother:
I’m not sure which version of the bill Cramer was talking about in the video, but he makes specific reference to the law upholding the constitutional rights of the accused. I don’t think that’s true of the final bill that passed the House, which Cramer voted for.
The law is a sop to trial lawyers, who will soon be able to line their pockets by suing women’s shelters, and by extending tribal jurisdiction to non-tribal members accused of crimes on reservation land the door is open to a constitutional challenge to the law.
Tribal courts are notoriously corrupt, something North Dakota leaders ought to be aware of given what’s going on with the child abuse scandal on the Spirit Lake Reservation right now. Legal training for tribal court judges is lax, too.
The VAWA, as passed by the House and Senate, does require that juries for non-tribal members be made up of pools also including non-tribal members. That’s nice in theory. In practice, as anyone familiar with the tribal justice system knows, the idea that non-tribal members are going to get a consistently fair trial in tribal courts is a joke.
But politics trump the Constitution in this matter, it seems. Senator Heitkamp and her party are making this issue central to their political strategy going forward. The North Dakota Democrats just recently passed a party resolution claiming that women are in “emergent danger” merely by being in North Dakota. They plan on riding the “war on women” issue, and their position is that anyone against a policy like the VAWA – even on perfectly valid grounds such as protecting the rights of the accused – is anti-woman in their minds.
And remember that Congressman Cramer is up for re-election next year on the top of the ballot all on his own. There won’t be a governor, or a senate candidate, to take up some of the spotlight. The last thing Cramer needed was Heitkamp and the Democrats accusing him of “attacks on women” as they did with his predecessor Rick Berg who voted against the VAWA in 2011.
We live in a political environment where pandering to this “war on women” craze is more important than constitutional protections for due process. That’s a sad reality.