Does Heidi Heitkamp Care About Victims Of Violence Or Trial Lawyers?

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Rep. Kevin Cramer, noting that the mother of his adopted son was the victim of violence, notes some of the problems with the Violence Against Women Act that I’ve been writing about recently:

“I have some concern in reference to inherent sovereignty for the tribes and I want to check more thoroughly into the constitutionality of that,” he said. “What I’d hate to do is pass reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act only to find out that it’s successfully challenged in court — its constitutionality is successfully challenged — and then have the thing thrown out.”

He feels the expressed authority that has always been granted to the reservations is sufficient, Cramer said.

“The risk we run is that it can be used in any type of criminal proceeding if it’s used in one,” he said. “It can be precedent setting.” …

“The reservations are where they’re having a good number of the problems and now we’re suggesting in the same legislation that we give more authority — inherent sovereignty — to the very place that’s not dealing with it very well already,” he said. “I agree — we’ve got to do something on the reservations, but I’d also say the tribes themselves have got to do something on the reservations.”

Cramer is right to be concerned. Unfortunately, Heitkamp is angling to use the VAWA as a wedge issue, casting anyone questioning the legislation as being insufficiently against violent acts committed against women. “I will not support a Violence Against Women Act that does not have a provision for Native American women for protection on the reservations,” she said recently. That’s a fine sentiment, but what if the law infringes the right of the accused?

Aren’t we all entitled to equal protection under the law?

And there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that this policy Heitkamp supports will do more to help trial lawyers than victims of violence. The VAWA would “would make it easier to sue domestic-violence shelters for discrimination,” writes Betsy Woodruff at National Review:

Republicans argue that the provision, intended to prevent discrimination against LGBT individuals, is unnecessary — they cite Democrats’ remarkable absence of evidence on systemic discrimination — and would open cash-strapped shelters to costly lawsuits. For instance, if a single-sex shelter for women didn’t let a gay man stay, it could face a lawsuit.

In other words, the new provision is bad for women and good for trial lawyers. But whatever, the Democrats are for it and the Republicans are against it, so it must save a ton of ladies!

The goal of protecting women from violence is, clearly, an admirable one. And I think you could make the argument that the VAWA did that in its previous iterations. But now Democrats seem to be larding up the bill with sops to their constituencies, like trial lawyers, and bad ideas like giving tribal courts sovereignty over non-tribal members.

There are valid reasons to oppose the VAWA, as passed by the Senate, on those grounds. Unfortunately, partisan demagogues like Heitkamp who chant the “war on women” mantra aren’t willing to let that debate happen.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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