Statement By Attorney General Eliot Spitzer Regarding The Supreme Court Decision Striking Down The Violence Against Women Act

The Supreme Court today struck down as unconstitutional the Violence Against Women Act, which provided a federal civil remedy for victims of gender-motivated violence. The Court did so on grounds that in enacting the statute, Congress usurped the role of the States within our constitutional structure as the entities responsible for regulating essentially local conduct within their borders.

The State of New York, represented by my office, submitted a friend-of-the-Court brief on behalf of 36 States that had urged the Court to uphold the Violence Against Women Act as an important federal supplement to States' efforts to address the national problem of gender-motivated violence.

This decision continues a troubling trend by the Supreme Court to curtail sharply the power of the Congress and the federal courts to recognize and enforce important civil rights. These recent decisions deviate from the accepted doctrine of the past century, and unduly limit the ability of Congress to legislate in areas of vital national importance.

By relying upon the doctrine of "federalism," through which power is devolving from the federal to the state governments, the Supreme Court is underscoring the need for State officials to revitalize State governmental institutions. As the Supreme Court has now made crystal clear, States can no longer defer to the federal government in critical areas ranging from environmental enforcement, regulation of firearms and tobacco, and protection of civil rights. If State actors fail to address problems previously addressed at the federal level in these areas, fundamental rights may go unprotected.

At the State level, therefore, we must act affirmatively to ensure that the law is fairly and adequately enforced, and that the positive, bipartisan progressive advances of the last century are not undone through abdication of state governmental responsibility.