Appeals Court Deems VAWA Act Unconstitutional

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is unconstitutional. The case was brought by plaintiff Christy Brzonkala, who filed a federal lawsuit against the two former Virginia Tech students who are charged with raping her.

Passed in 1994, the VAWA gave victims of sex-based crimes like rape and domestic violence the right to sue their attackers for violating their civil rights as women. The Act also ordered the allocation of funds for battered women’s programs and for centralized offices to help enforce protective orders.

As a result of Friday’s ruling, women living in states where the Court has jurisdiction — Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the Carolinas — will no longer be eligible to sue their attackers under VAWA. These women now must sue only under their state’s tort laws, which have shorter statutes of limitations and lower caps on damages.

Legal experts predict that Brzonkala will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Brzonkala’s attorney, Eileen N. Wagner, agreed. “The Supreme Court was our original goal and I have a hard time envisioning we would pass up the test. Her (Brzonkala’s) idea was, ‘I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.'”


Washington Post - March 6, 1999

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