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Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, in my previous life, I was attorney general of the State of Texas. In that capacity, I had the opportunity to work with numerous victim rights groups, primarily because part of my responsibility--the office's responsibility--was to administer the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which took a small portion of the fees paid by criminal defendants who are convicted of crimes or pled guilty to crimes and put it into a fund that could be used then to help victims. As attorney general of Texas, I became a supporter of the crime victims rights community and their interests as well as the VAWA.
This is really an important point. Since it was first enacted in 1994, the VAWA has been reauthorized on two separate occasions, each time by unanimous vote of the Senate. Let me say that again. On the two previous occasions the Senate has voted to reauthorize the VAWA, it has been unanimous. There were no differences between Democrats and Republicans--we were all together in supporting this legislation. For that reason, I hope Members of both parties will think long and hard before turning this critical law into just another vehicle for scoring political points or bowing to special interests instead of the public interest.
I am enormously proud and grateful that this bill contains a version of the SAFER Act, which I first introduced last year with strong bipartisan support. I had the privilege of meeting several extraordinary Texas women, including Carol Bart, Lennah Frost, and Lavinia Masters, all of whom decided to go public with their story in hopes of helping other victims of sexual assault. It has been a moving experience.
I am delighted that our bill and our effort via the SAFER Act to address the untested rape kit scandal in this country is so close to the finish line. Why is this legislation so important? Right now there are as many as 400,000 untested rape kits sitting in police evidence lockers or labs across the Nation. Each one of those rape kits--which is a sample of DNA that could then be used to match up against an FBI database to make an identification of a sexual assailant--right now 400,000 of them, it is estimated; we really don't know the exact number--are sitting in evidence lockers and police storage facilities all across the Nation. Each one of these kits has the potential to solve a crime, to identify a rapist and deliver justice for a victim.
The SAFER Act would help law enforcement officials reduce that backlog of untested rape kits and improve public safety. Indeed, it would help us address what can only be considered a national scandal. It would help bring peace of mind to rape victims. And it would help get dangerous criminals off the street before they commit another crime. That is why the SAFER Act has been endorsed by a wide range of victim advocacy groups, such as the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network; the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; the Fraternal Order of Police; and the National Organization for Women. That is why we are so eager to see this legislation become law.
But beyond the SAFER Act, the VAWA provides funding for shelters, counseling programs, and legal services that help ensure that our justice system leaves no victim behind.
For all these reasons, we can and we must reauthorize the VAWA. As we have done on previous occasions, we should do so with overwhelming bipartisan support. We could easily do that.
Unfortunately, the underlying bill also contains a separate provision that is blatantly unconstitutional. It would deny U.S. citizens their full constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights in tribal courts. Needless to say, this is a big problem, but it is also a solvable problem. I have drafted an amendment that would allow Native American tribes to prosecute U.S. citizens for domestic violence as long as those tribes followed the Constitution and allowed all convictions to be appealed in the Federal court system.
This amendment is a sensible compromise, and I have discussed it with all of the various organizations that are interested in passage of a reauthorization of VAWA. We have negotiated in good faith, but unfortunately that good-faith effort to try to find a solution has run into a brick wall of opposition, and the chairman has decided to not change the controversial language that would deny certain Americans full protection of the Bill of Rights. What I cannot understand is why anyone would want to pick a political fight and not find a solution if a solution is at hand and it makes so much sense.
Once again, I passionately support the SAFER Act. I am grateful that provision at long last is included in this law, which will allow us to address that national scandal of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits. This is a bill which could do so much good in the battle for victims' rights, but unfortunately it is being held hostage by a single provision that would take away fundamental constitutional rights for certain American citizens.
And for what? For what? In order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of special interests.
I remain hopeful that we can eventually come to a compromise that upholds the Constitution, if not here in the Senate then in a conference committee between the House of Representatives and the Senate, so we reconcile the differences between the two bills passed by each House.
For now I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that violates the U.S. Constitution. I cannot, in good conscience and in fidelity to my oath of office, vote for a provision that I know is unconstitutional. I will, however, vote for the alternative bill that is offered by Senator Grassley which eliminates this unconstitutional provision. It reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act and contains the SAFER Act which addresses this backlog of untested rape kits.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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