Supreme Court to review Violence Against Women Act

Constitutional limits on federal power at stake

Washington, D.C.- The Supreme Court agreed today to review the constitutionality of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). A key provision of the act was struck down by a federal appeals court in March. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case, Brzonkala v. Morrison, will have far-reaching implications for the limits on federal power.

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which represents one of the defendants, contends that VAWA’s enactment exceeded constitutional limits on Congressional authority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed this spring, holding that VAWA’s civil remedy provision “cannot be reconciled with the principles of limited federal government upon which this nation is founded.”

The case involved the alleged rape of Christy Brzonkala, a white athlete at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, by James Crawford and Tony Morrison, both black athletes at the University. Although both students were cleared by a criminal grand jury and a university judicial committee, Brzonkala sued them under VAWA’s civil remedy provision. Tony Morrison is represented by both CIR and W. David Paxton of Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke.

Curt Levey, CIR’s Director of Legal and Public Affairs, expressed confidence that the Supreme Court will affirm the Fourth Circuit. Citing the Court’s recent decisions in Lopez and City of Boerne, Levey said “it is unlikely that the superficial appeal of VAWA and the political clout of the feminist establishment will be enough to overcome the strong Supreme Court precedent relied upon by the Fourth Circuit.” However, Levey added that “our confidence is tempered by the knowledge that today’s decision means Tony and his family will have to endure another year of sexual assault allegations- allegations which have twice been found to be groundless.”