Julie Goldscheid of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) and Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman argued before the Supreme Court yesterday in defense of the civil rights statute of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allows victims of gender-based violence to sue for damages in federal civil court. Justices indicated skepticism about whether Congress had overstepped its bounds in opening federal courts to these suits, and their recent decision in a separate case was a 5-to-4 majority for states’ rights. The New York Times reports “little evidence” of a shift in that majority.
Goldscheid argued that violence against women affects interstate commerce, which is within Congress’s bounds to regulate, by deterring women from taking certain jobs or continuing their education. Waxman and supporters of VAWA note that its goal is to provide remedies for violence against women when state laws, local law enforcement agencies, and other avenues are continually blocked by inadequate statutes and sex discrimination or stereotypes.
In the recent decision barring access to federal courts in cases of age discrimination, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that Congress does have the power to protect people from race and sex discrimination.
Both the Clinton administration and most states are in favor of the statute; only Alabama filed a brief in favor of declaring it unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg showed support for Brzonkala’s right to sue under VAWA, noting that, in the past, both the federal government and the states had passed concurrent laws against race discrimination.