Opinion: Tribal jurisdiction provisions of VAWA reauthorization

Attorneys Winter King and Sara Clark discuss the tribal jurisdiction provisions of S.47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013:
President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a federal statute that addresses domestic violence and other crimes against women. As initially conceived in 1994, VAWA created new federal crimes and sanctions to fill in gaps, provided training for federal, state and local law enforcement and courts to address such crimes, and funded a wide array of community services aimed to protect and support victims. In a historic move, this new version of VAWA recognizes and affirms that tribal courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases brought by tribes against non-members—including non-Indians—that arise under VAWA. This is the first time since the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978), that Congress has recognized and affirmed tribal courts’ criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

This change in the law represents a huge victory for native communities and especially native women. Native American and Alaska Native women experience sexual violence at a rate two and a half times higher than other women in the United States. Yet, in more than half of these cases, the federal government—which in many cases has had the sole authority to prosecute such crimes when committed by non-Indians—has declined to prosecute. The special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction conferred under the VAWA reauthorization not only provides an additional tool to address violence in Indian country, but also strengthens and affirms tribal courts and tribal sovereignty.

Get the Story:
Winter King & Sara Clark: Navigating VAWA's New Tribal Court Jurisdictional Provision (Indian Country Today 3/31)

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