Lee: VAWA Oversteps Limits on Federal Power

April 26, 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee made the following remarks on the floor of the Senate regarding the “Violence Against Women” Act (Watch full video here):

I rise today to speak about our Constitution’s federalist structure and the real danger of the federal government unduly interfering with the ability of states and localities to address activities and concerns in their communities.

“Everyone agrees that violence against women is reprehensible.  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization has the honorable goal of assisting victims of domestic violence, but it oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power, it interferes with the flexibility states and localities should have in tailoring programs to meet particular needs of individual communities, and it fails to address problems of duplication and inefficiency.

“First, violent crimes are regulated and enforced almost exclusively by state governments.  In fact, domestic violence is one of the few activities that the Supreme Court of the United States has specifically said Congress may not regulate under the Commerce Clause.  As a matter of constitutional policy, Congress should not seek to impose rules and standards as conditions for federal funding in areas where the federal government lacks constitutional authority to regulate directly.

“Second, the strings that Congress attaches to federal funding in the VAWA reauthorization restrict each state’s ability to govern itself.  Rather than interfering with state and local programs under the guise of spending federal tax dollars, Congress should allow states and localities to exercise their rightful responsibility over domestic violence.  State and local leaders should have flexibility in enforcing state law and tailoring victims’ services to the individualized needs of their communities, rather than having to comply with one-size-fits-all federal requirements.

“Third, even if the federal government had a legitimate role in administering VAWA grant programs, the current reauthorization fails to address many instances of duplication and overlap among VAWA and other programs operated by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Nor does it address the grant management failings identified by the Government Accountability Office.  

“My opposition to the current VAWA reauthorization is a vote against big government and inefficient spending, and a vote in favor of state autonomy and local control.  We must not allow a desire by some to score political points and an appetite for federal spending to prevent states and localities from efficiently and effectively serving women and other victims of domestic violence.”