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Congressman Bridenstine Votes Against VAWA on Constitutional Concerns

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Jim Bridenstine:

I am against domestic violence and support effective efforts to combat this terrible problem. However, I voted against the 2013 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for the following reasons:

VAWA's discrimination against religious groups places more women at risk in favor of rigid pro-abortion ideology.

The tribal provisions violate Article II and III of the U.S. Constitution.

The program misallocates scarce federal resources.

First, VAWA language denies grants to certain religious groups working to prevent human trafficking because they refuse to perform or refer abortions. This denial places more women at risk of violence while promoting the killing of unborn children, many of whom are female.

Second, the Violence Against Women Act empowers Indian tribal courts to adjudicate domestic criminal charges against non-Indians and authorize the confinement of convicted offenders. It is important to prosecute and punish domestic violence criminals on tribal lands, but there are ways to do it without violating the United State Constitution.

Under Article II Section 2, Congress can only vest the appointment of federal officers and judges in the President, a court of law, or the head of a department. In contrast to this requirement, tribal court judges are appointed by tribes, not the President, a court of law, or the head of a department, so they cannot exercise federal power. A simple bill passed by the U.S. Congress cannot change the Constitution of the United States. This law, if desired, requires a constitutional amendment.

Under Article III, federal judges are appointed for life (during good behavior) and their compensations "shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office." This is to insulate federal judges from community pressures. Tribal courts do not follow these requirements.

There could have been three solutions short of a constitutional amendment to deal with these constitutional challenges:

Congress could have allowed federal courts to adjudicate reservation-based domestic violence.

Congress could have allowed state courts to adjudicate reservation-based domestic violence. State courts exercise state power, not federal power, so the Article II and III requirements do not apply to them.

Congress could have required that federal tribal judges be appointed consistent with Articles II and III.

Third, apart from the constitutional problems, this bill provided no metrics or research to determine whether or not these federal funds actually reduce domestic violence in Oklahoma's First District. I would prefer the money stay in Oklahoma, where it can be effectively employed by state and local law enforcement to combat domestic violence. Sending money to Washington D.C. so that politicians can create a federal program is not the best use of tax payer dollars in the effort to curb violence against women.

I asked my Communications Director, Sheryl Kaufman, to comment on this issue. She has been involved in supporting domestic violence intervention in our District for decades.

Sheryl Kaufman:

Fighting domestic violence is not a partisan issue. It never has been. We are all against domestic violence.

I served as the first president of the domestic violence intervention project in Bartlesville, now known as Family Crisis Counseling. Thirty years ago, when we started, this was a problem little discussed in public, and no intervention was available in most localities. Now every state has statutes that punish domestic violence and offers services to the domestic violence victims. Many local governments are also actively combating the problem along with nonprofit organizations.

But I do not support the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

The 2013 Act has serious constitutional flaws. American citizens have the right to be tried by judges who are appointed for life. This is necessary to assure that the courts will not be subjected to local pressures to convict an "obviously guilty" defendant. The provision to allow trials in tribal courts violates that right because tribal judges lack the protections for judicial independence afforded by Article III of the US Constitution.

I am also concerned that we are seeing too much "mission creep" in federal involvement. The law enforcement battle to combat domestic violence is usually waged at the local and state level. That's also where services are provided to victims.

While the goal of helping victims of domestic violence is admirable, Congress' tendency to subsidize and dominate activities routinely handled by state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations, simply continues the federal government's march toward fiscal insolvency.

For these reasons, I encouraged Congressman Bridenstine to vote against the bill.


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