House Republican attempt to gut VAWA tribal jurisdiction fails 

by Mar 15, 2019NEWS ka-no-he-da





An attempt by House Republicans to strip tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians in domestic violence cases during a House Judiciary Committee mark-up hearing failed.  The mark-up, held Wednesday, March 13, dealt with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2019 (H.R. 1585) which was introduced earlier in the month by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who serves as the chairperson for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.).  

The amendment to strip out the tribal jurisdiction provisions was put forth by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.).  His amendment, which failed by a vote of 16-9, would have also stripped new provisions laid out in the 2019 Act that would expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for the crimes of stalking, sex trafficking, and those who commit violence against law enforcement officers while on tribal lands.  

Rep. Sensenbrenner said, “Tribal courts do not necessarily adhere to the same constitutional provisions that protect the rights of all defendants in federal and state courts.  This sets us down the road to a dangerous path.”  

Voting on the amendment was right down party lines.  Those voting for the amendment included: Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), and Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).  Those voting against the amendment included: Rep. Gerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Penn.), Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas).  

The bill itself passed out of the Committee by a roll call vote of 22-11 right down party lines with 22 Democrats voting to pass and 11 Republicans voting against.  

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians exercises sovereign rights over our lands to protect our Cherokee people.  Our Tribal Court has the sovereign authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic and dating crimes against Cherokee women.  We are very concerned that members of the House Judiciary Committee tried to take away our sovereign right to prosecute domestic and dating violence perpetrators in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act today.” 

He went on to say, “Leaders from tribes have fought for years to protect our Native women and children through strengthening our tribal courts.  VAWA was an integral component of exercising our tribal sovereignty to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.  I welcome an opportunity to provide feedback to legislators regarding VAWA as it moves through the approval process.”  

Juana Majel-Dixon, NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) co-chair for the Task Force on Violence Against Women, commented, “We applaud the Committee for approving this important legislation, which would enhance safety for victims in Indian Country.” 

She went on to speak to the proposed amendment that would have repealed tribal jurisdiction portions of VAWA.  “I was disheartened, and frankly appalled, to see an amendment offered that would have stripped tribal governments of their inherent authority to hold non-Indians accountable for domestic violence crimes on tribal lands.  With more than four in five Native women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes, now is not the time to go back to a system that allows non-Indians to prey on Native women with impunity.  I am grateful that a majority of the Committee members agree.”  

Ruth Glenn, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) president and chief executive officer, said of the VAWA Reauthorization, “The Violence Against Women Act is one of the three pillars of the federal response to intimate partner violence.  Each reauthorization has built on the previous reauthorization, going back a quarter century.  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 is based on an understanding of gaps in existing law identified through extensive outreach to domestic violence advocates, survivors, and other key stakeholders.”  

According to the Congressional Research Service, “The Violence Against Women Act was originally enacted in 1994.  It addressed Congressional concerns about violent crime, and violence against women in particular, in several ways.  It allowed for enhanced sentencing of repeat federal sex offenders; mandated restitution to victims of specified federal sex offenses; and authorized grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement entities to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women, among other things.”  

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian prosecuted its first domestic violence case against a non-Indian offender under VAWA provisions in July 2015.