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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

May-15-00

Supreme Court Rejects Civil Rights Remedy of the Violence Against Women Act

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday
rejected in a 5-4 ruling the civil rights section
of the 1994 federal Violence Against Women
Act (VAWA), preventing victims of rape
from suing their attackers in federal court.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who
authored the majority opinion, declared that
VAWA wrongly stepped on states' authority
to enforce the Constitution's equal-protection
provision, affirming the appeals court's
decision that victims of such violent,
gender-based crimes should not be permitted
to sue for damages in federal civil cases.

Rehnquist wrote "Petitioners' assertion that
there is pervasive bias in various state justice
systems against victims of gender-motivated
violence is supported by a voluminous
congressional record. However, the
Fourteenth Amendment places limitations on
the manner in which Congress may attack
discriminatory conduct."

Justice Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, in
which Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg joined.

Last Spring, in Brzonkala v. Morrison, the
4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
against Christy Brzonkala, who brought civil
charges against Antonio J. Morrison and
James Landale for rapes that occurred in
1994 in a dormitory at the Virginia
Polytechnic Institute.

This defeat is a major setback for protecting
women against violence. Until now, the Civil
Rights Remedy of the Violence Against
Women Act allowed victims to collect for
medical expenses and lost wages in civil suits.
The Supreme Court decision against this
provision leaves women with no federal civil
legal remedy for damages they suffer because
of violent attacks.

Media Resources: The Nando Times - 15 May 2000, U.S. v. Morrison et


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