Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Federalism? What's that?

Last Thursday, the US Senate renewed the Violence Against Women Act with 15 Republicans voting with their Democratic colleagues. The House is scheduled to vote on its version of a renewal next month. GOP congressmen are upset with three provisions of the bill that they claim cater to political interests. Of chief concern are provisions to assist gays and lesbians receive domestic abuse services, to issue special visas for women in the country illegally and to allow Indian tribal courts to handle domestic abuse cases that occur on reservations.

Of course the one issue missing in the debate is the need for such legislation. At last glance, all 50 states have laws on the books making assault a crime. Most states enhance penalties if the assault involved family violence. In Texas, for instance, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor assault and the court makes an affirmative finding of family violence, if it were to happen again you would be facing a felony charge.

Domestic assault is a state matter, not a federal matter. There is no reason that we should be federalizing domestic abuse cases - other than the political gains that can be made for standing on one side of the issue or the other.

As has been written on the blawgosphere many times before, there are far too many federal crimes. Most crimes that are prosecuted in the federal courts could just as easily be prosecuted in state courts. The only crime mentioned in the Constitution is treason.

But that has never stopped Congress from injecting itself into local matters at the drop of a hat. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who claims to be in favor of limited government, wanted to give the states more money to test rape kits and wanted to impose stiffer sentences for certain domestic violence crimes.

Um, excuse me, Mr. Cornyn, but I believe the crimes you had in mind are already crimes in Texas and most, if not all, the other states. There's no need for a federal anti-stalking statute. Nor is there a glaring need to throw more folks in federal prisons for crimes that have no consequence on the citizens of the nation as a whole.

It is time we took a step back and began reducing the number of federal crimes on the books - particularly those federal crimes that require no mens rea, or guilty mind. Domestic violence is a problem; just not a problem that our friends up in Washington have any business trying to resolve.

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