Judiciary Committee Passes Victims’ Rights Amendment To The U.S. Constitution

In: All News   Posted 09/04/2003

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the victims rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution Thursday, which would protect the rights of crime victims. As chairman of the subcommittee on the Constitution, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn convened a markup of the resolution earlier this year to discuss, and approve the Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA), S.J. Res. 1, which allowed for today’s passage by the Judiciary Committee."This is an important step in giving an equal playing field to victims of violent crime,” Cornyn said. “We must do all we can to protect victims of violent crime who should have the constitutional right to be notified of, be present at, and have their voices heard at critical public criminal proceedings.” the amendment would grant victims of violent crime the following rights: · Reasonable and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime, as well as notice of release or escape of the accused. · Access to public hearings and the right to be reasonably heard at public release, plea, sentencing, reprieve, and pardon proceedings. · Access to decisions by the courts that involve the victim's safety, interest in avoiding unreasonable delay, and just and timely claims to restitution from the offender. · Prohibits any restriction of such rights except in cases where there is a substantial threat to public safety or the administration of criminal justice, or other such compelling necessity."Currently, 33 states—including Texas—already have victims’ rights amendments with similar provisions in their state constitutions, so we have tested these provisions and have seen how they work in state courts,” Cornyn said. “In the great tradition of U.S. constitutional amendments, we are prepared to build on that experience in the states and adopt a federal amendment to provide national, uniform protection to all Americans, in all U.S. courts.” the resolution was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Both Texas senators are among the co-sponsors. The VRA will now move to the full Senate for consideration. If ratified by two-thirds of both houses of Congress, the amendment would then move to the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states would then be required before the Constitution could be amended. Sen. Cornyn chairs the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights & Property Rights, and is the only former judge on the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, and Budget Committees. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.Below is Sen. Cornyn’s statement from the Judiciary Committee hearing on the VRA -STATEMENT OF U.S. SENATOR JOHN CORNYN BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY S. J. Res. 1, Victims’ Rights Amendment Tuesday, July 29, 2003,"I am pleased to state my strong support for S. J. Res. 1, the Victims’ Rights Amendment. Senators Kyl and Feinstein deserve praise for their leadership, hard work, and passion for protecting the rights of victims of violent crime."I also want to express my thanks to Chairman Hatch for scheduling the markup of S. J. Res. 1 in the Constitution Subcommittee, which we held on June 12. I believe, and I know that Senator Feingold also believes, that the process of marking up all constitutional amendments in the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution is both a traditional one, and a very important one."All legislation is serious business – but the process of amending the Constitution is especially serious business. It takes the approval of not only two-thirds of each House of Congress to propose amendments to the Constitution (putting aside the option, never before used, of calling a convention to propose constitutional amendments), but also the approval of three-fourths of all of the states to ratify any proposed amendment."The Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution has had jurisdiction over constitutional amendments ever since its establishment in 1947. Since then, it has consistently played an essential and critical role in the amendment process, and helped to ensure that constitutional amendments receive special care and attention from Congress. Virtually every amendment to the Constitution that has been proposed by Congress since that time was first reviewed by this subcommittee. And so it is important to me that we followed this tradition in the case of the Victims’ Rights Amendment."Constitutional amendments are serious business, not to be undertaken lightly. But there is a long tradition of amending the Constitution to guarantee important and fundamental protections to individuals. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religious practice. The Second Amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear Arms. The Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals against racial discrimination and other forms of impermissible government action. The Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Fourth Amendments protect the right to vote against racial discrimination, sex discrimination, and poll taxes. The list goes on."And of course, individuals accused of crime enjoy more than a dozen constitutional rights secured by various amendments to the Constitution."I believe it is time to give an equal playing field to victims of violent crime. Victims of violent crime should have the constitutional right to be notified of, be present at, and have their voices heard at critical public criminal proceedings. As Senator Feinstein has so eloquently pointed out on the Senate Floor, such rights for victims weren’t necessary when this country was founded, because at that time, it was standard practice for victims, not public prosecutors, to prosecute criminal cases. Times have changed, of course. And it is now time to provide constitutional rights to victims of violent crime, as has been amply demonstrated in six separate hearings held by the United States Senate alone in recent years."The Constitution protects the rights of the accused, as it should. But the Constitution must also protect, and not neglect, victims of violent crime. The Constitution can and should protect both. As section 1 of this proposed amendment expressly states, “the rights of victims of violent crime” are “capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of those accused of victimizing them.” Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe has praised the amendment especially for “fully protecting defendants’ rights” as well as victims’ rights."Thirty-three states – including Texas – already have victim rights amendments with similar provisions in their state constitutions. So we have tested these provisions and have seen how they operate in state courts. Following a long tradition of U.S. constitutional amendments, S. J. Res. 1 builds on the experience in the state constitutions, by proposing a federal amendment to provide national, uniform protection to all Americans in all U.S. courts, both federal and state."It has been said that, although victims’ rights are important, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is not necessary to secure those rights. With all due respect, I disagree with that view. The only way to ensure the uniform protection of victims’ rights in every court in this country, in state court and federal court alike, is through a constitutional amendment. Congress simply does not possess the power to secure these rights in state courts by a mere statute."The Victims’ Rights Amendment has received extraordinarily broad support across the political spectrum. It has been endorsed by President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore, and by the platforms of both political parties. It is supported by former U.S. attorneys general Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, Bill Barr, and Janet Reno,