This commentary from the Dallas Morning News does not necessarily reflect the views of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.
The kinds of crime and domestic violence that mostly victimize women have been on a downward track for two decades. Much credit is due to the Violence Against Women Act, which has yielded demonstrable results and has helped raise public consciousness about specific behaviors and attitudes that contribute to gender-specific attacks.
An overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate last week approved the act’s renewal with even stronger provisions. The fact that all but 22 Senate Republicans backed the bill signals growing and welcome GOP support for this important measure. The message to House Republicans should be clear: Oppose this act like you did last year, and risk refueling charges of waging a “war against women.”
But this bill isn’t about elections. It’s about real women – daughters, wives, sisters and mothers – subjected to life-changing acts of physical and mental abuse. House members need to support the Violence Against Women Act because they want to see crimes against women continue to drop – not because they fear losing votes.
Among the 22 Senate opponents, sadly, were Texas’ own John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Cruz’s rationale for voting no seemed to duck the seriousness of the issue: “Stopping and punishing violent criminals is primarily a state responsibility, and the federal government does not need to be dictating state criminal law.”
Cornyn’s argument is more nuanced. He embraces the need for this law and actually co-sponsored an important amendment that would increase federal funding to clear the massive backlog of untested rape kits currently sitting in police department evidence rooms around the country. His amendment was approved.
Cornyn is concerned about a separate provision that would allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American men accused of crimes against women on tribal lands. The provision is aimed at the high rate of violent crimes against women on tribal lands and the abysmal rate of their prosecution.
Cornyn argues that accused men facing tribal courts could lose constitutional protections, which might prompt the law to be struck down as unconstitutional. As a former Texas attorney general and Supreme Court justice, Cornyn’s opinions matter on matters of law and the Constitution. The solution isn’t to oppose the entire act, though.
The same controversy is likely to develop when the House debates its version. We urge Texas members to join efforts to fix the tribal-jurisdiction provision, perhaps by giving federal prosecutors and magistrates greater powers to intercede. Then negotiate compromises in conference to reconcile it with the Senate version.
It would be a mistake for House members to use items such as the tribal-jurisdictions clause as an excuse to vote against the act. Women voters – and those who care for them – may well hold opponents accountable at election time. More important: This is one subject that should transcend Washington’s normal political stalemate.