Document 20: NOW LDEF Communications Department, "Now Legal Defense and Education Fund Plays Pivotal Role in Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases: Violence and Reproductive Rights," In Brief, (Winter 2000-2001), p. 6.
The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund was instrumental in the crafting and passage of the VAWA and its historic civil rights remedy in 1994 and was co-counsel for the plaintiff, Christy Brzonkala, in U.S. v. Morrison. Senior staff attorney Julie Goldscheid argued the case before the Supreme Court. This article from In Brief, the NOW LDEF newsletter, provides a feminist perspective on the verdict.
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
Plays Pivotal Role in Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases
Violence And Reproductive Rights
U.S. v. Morrison
In a historic loss for women last May, the Supreme Court ruled that the civil rights remedy of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allowed victims of gender-based violence to sue their attackers, was an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' powers to regulate interstate commerce and to enforce the 14th Amendment.
"The Rehnquist Court's ruling in U.S. v. Morrison is a setback for women's rights and a triumph for those who seek to roll back 30 years of federal civil rights law under the guise of states' rights. The Court has slammed shut the courthouse door, wished women good luck, and sent us back to the states for justice," said Kathy Rodgers, President of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
NOW Legal Defense was instrumental in the crafting and passage of VAWA and its historic civil rights remedy in 1994 and was co-counsel for the plaintiff, Christy Brzonkala. Senior staff attorney Julie Goldscheid argued the case before the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Court ruled that VAWA's civil rights remedy was unconstitutional. Despite evidence amassed over four years of legistative debate and congressional findings that violence against women is a form of sex discrimnation that has a major impact on the national economy, the court ruled that Congress could not regulate intrastate criminal conduct under the commerce clause, but rather that such issues should be left to the states. And while acknowledging the gender bias in state officials' response to crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, the Court found the civil rights remedy to be beyond Congress' authority to enforce the 14th Amendment because it was directed against private individuals, not state actors.
In September 1994, 18-year-old Christy Brzonkala was a first year student at Virginia Polytechnic University. She alleged she was raped by two college football players in her dormitory and took her claim that the defendants violated the VAWA civil rights remedy to federal court. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, siding with the defendants, who were represented by the conservative Center for Individual Rights.
"It was nothing short of an honor to argue U.S. v. Morrison before the Supreme Court on behalf of NOW Legal Defense and our client, Christy Brzonkala," said Goldscheid.
"As the attorney who had litigated in support of the constitutionality of VAWA's civil rights remedy in lower courts nationwide, I was thrilled to have the opportunity and excited to meet the challenge."
"In preparing to litigate at the Supreme Court, NOW Legal Defense had the advantage of a talented legal team with a wealth of experience. While virtually everyone in the office helped in one way or another, our internal litigation team comprised Martha Davis, NOW Legal Defense's Legal Director, Skadden Fellow, Risa Kaufman, and me. We drafted the briefs on behalf of Christy Bronzkala, and coordinated amicus briefs which were filed by sister organizations, professors, a member of Congress and 37 Attorneys General, all in support of the law's constitutionality."
"Sidley and Austin, a private law firm with a renowned Supreme Court practice, worked with us as co-counsel. And we had the support of the Department of Justice, which had intervened to argue that the law should be upheld," said Goldscheid.
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