The Court Draws a Line

The Supreme Court had to choose between a reasonably strict interpretation of congressional lawmaking jurisdiction and Congress's desire to strengthen women's ability to seek damages for acts of violence. It took the former course, and for good reason.

While the Violence Against Women Act was a well-intended effort to address a social evil, it clearly stretched Congress's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. Too far, according to the court's majority.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for that five-justice majority, said that upholding the act would allow Congress "to regulate not only all violent crime, but all activities that might lead to violent crime, regardless of how tenuously they relate to interstate commerce."

The Founding Fathers placed substantial power in the states, including general authority for enforcing criminal and civil law, to guard against too great a concentration of power in a distant seat of federal power.

History records past abuses of power by the states. State laws enshrining racial discrimination were struck down on the basis of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws." Federal civil rights statutes rightly used the Commerce Clause to erase the stultifying effects of discrimination.

Victims of rape and domestic violence have certainly had their rights violated, but by individuals not state governments. And the laws of every state give such victims the right to sue for damages in state court.

In essence, the court's ruling draws a line that must be drawn if America's federal system is to function properly.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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