Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on Monday spoke out against a Republican proposal to eliminate protections for Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Cantwell noted that Native American women experience domestic violence and sexual assault at a rate far above the national average.
“However, less than 50 percent of the domestic violence cases in Indian country are prosecuted because of a gap in our legal system,” she explained on the Senate floor. “This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about a debate on what is a good way to win votes somewhere in America. This is about the life or death of women who need a better system to help prosecute those who are committing serious crimes against them.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-TX) introduced an amendment to the bill that would remove the tribal provisions from the bill. Republicans have objected to allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American individuals for domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land. Coburn said the provision endangered civil liberties because tribal courts are not bound by the U.S. Constitution.
Cantwell denied the tribal provisions would violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. She noted the U.S. Department of Justice would partner with tribal courts and non-tribal Americans would have the ability to appeal their case to a federal court. The legislation also specifically prohibits tribal courts from violating Americans’ rights.
“I’m not sure what my colleagues are referring to,” she said. “But these safeguards were built into the system because this is such an egregious problem that we have to fix.”
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