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EBCI Chief expresses disappointment in Rep. Cawthorn’s vote against the Violence Against Women Act

The House of Representatives voted last Wednesday to renew the lapsed Violence Against Women Act, VAWA, legislation originally championed by President Joe Biden in 1994. 

The House chamber passed the bipartisan bill to reauthorize VAWA last week after it was introduced by Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler of New York and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. While the bill ultimately passed, it was not unanimous. The final tally was 244 to 172 with only 29 Republicans voting with Democrats in support. 

Among Republicans who voted against reauthorization of VAWA was North Carolina District 11 Representative Madison Cawthorn. Rep. Cawthorn took to social media to announce his vote. 

“Yesterday I voted against the partisan, VAWA Reauthorization bill,” Rep. Cawthorn wrote on social media. “This bill promotes unproven methods of victim treatment, restricts tools used to prosecute domestic violence cases, infringes upon Second Amendment rights, and fails to provide exemptions for religious orgs.”

While Cawthorn states the legislation was partisan, not only was it introduced by Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, 29 House Republicans voted in favor of it. 

VAWA has been one of the most bipartisan pieces of legislation sent through Congress since it was first introduced in 1994. VAWA was first reauthorized by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 200 (H.R. 1248, Roll Call (415-3) and again in 2005 and signed by President George Bush. VAWA’s renewal was opposed by some Republicans in 2012, who objected against extended protections to same-sex couples, however, VAWA was ultimately reauthorized in 2013 marking the 19th anniversary of the bill. 

VAWA did expire in 2018 as a result of the 2018-2019 government shutdown— but was temporarily extended through February 2019, at which point it expired again. 

A 2019 reauthorization vote on the legislation passed the House by 263-158 — which included 33 Republicans voting in favor of the bill. VAWA was sent to the Republican-controlled Senate, which did not even take up the bill for consideration. It was not until last week that the bill was once again considered by Congress. 

Although Rep. Cawthorn claims VAWA does little to address instances of domestic violence, District Attorney Ashley Welch, represents the 43rd Prosecutorial District within Cawthorn’s District 11 territory, VAWA is a vital tool in protecting victims of domestic violence. 

Protecting victims from abusers is a priority in the 43rd Prosecutorial District, and funding through VAWA has played a critical role in our efforts,” said DA Welch. “Since 2008, VAWA grant money has paid for a specialized prosecution team, providing salaries for both a legal assistant and an assistant district attorney.’ 

In addition to paying for staff within the 43 Prosecutorial District, which spans Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Cherokee, Clay, and Graham Counties, DA Welch said that members of her team have been able to receive specific training on prosecuting cases related to domestic violence and sexual assault, due to funding provided through VAWA, funding that is no longer available.

“Unfortunately, these VAWA contracts expire March 31,” said DA Welch. “We have been unable to find the necessary replacement funding of $200,400 for the next 12-month period.  The 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Alliance administered the grant. The agency intends to apply again for VAWA funding, and we hope to re-establish this specialized team.”

From July 1 through Dec. 31, the VAWA-funded team (based in Haywood County) handled 258 cases, involving:

• 200 misdemeanor domestic violence/dating violence.

• Seven felony domestic violence/dating violence.

• Two misdemeanor sexual assaults.

• Three felony sexual assaults.

• Seven misdemeanor stalking.

• One felony stalking.

• Seven violations of bail.

• Nine violations of parole.

• 22 violation of protective order.

With the funding deadline quickly approaching that will have devastating impacts on WNC and the proven success of VAWA funded programs, Rep. Cawthorn says he wants to see a compromise reached to reauthorize VAWA while addressing claims posed by conservative members of Congress. 

“We need common-sense solutions, not partisan politicking that places political talking points over proven policy,” said Rep. Cawthorn.”I have tasked my team to work on crafting alternative solutions that work to address domestic violence, without advancing a partisan agenda.”

The new bill builds upon previous versions of the VAWA by authorizing funding for grants and other forms of support in an effort to prevent and combat sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking and deliver assistance to victims.

VAWA Reauthorization 2021 included additional provisions and resources of Federal Tribal Lands — something that advocates have fought to include in the bill since 2013. With Rep. Cawthorn’s vote against the bill, despite the resource, it will provide to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which sits inside NC-11, EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed shared his disappointment in Rep. Cawthorn and the detrimental impact a loss of funding would have on the Tribe.

“The Violence Against Women Act provides grants to states for programs that prevent violence against women or provide services for victims of violence. VAWA currently provides support for work with tribes and tribal organizations to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking against Native American women,” said Chief. Sneed. “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians takes an unbiased stance when it comes to partisan politics. This stance ensures that issues important to the EBCI reach across aisles rather than getting caught up in political punting/pandering.  While the EBCI is committed to working with representatives regardless of their politics, we stand committed to ensuring our issues are respected.  That being said, I am disappointed in Congressman Madison Cawthorn’s decision to vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This act provides support for the Eastern Band through support of our tribal courts and programs that we rely upon to protect Cherokee citizens against violence.  As a father and grandfather of Cherokee women and girls, and being that I have the honor of working with so many indigenous women, VAWA is of great personal importance to me, and I am again very dissatisfied and concerned with the decision made by those who voted it down.”

Rep. Cawthorn’s vote against VAWA came the same day that six Asian women were gunned down and murdered in Atlanta. While headlines covered their tragic deaths, they were shared with talking points from Rep. Cawthorn and fellow conservative Republicans speaking out against provisions of VAWA to prevent individuals charged with domestic violence offenses from owning guns. 

The House-passed bill contains a provision that expands the criminal threshold to bar an individual from buying a gun to include misdemeanor convictions of domestic abuse or stalking. It would also close the so-called boyfriend loophole to expand the definition of who is affected by existing gun prohibitions to include dating partners. Rep. Cawthorn argued that the additional provision in VAWA “infringed on individual 2nd amendment rights.” 

The increase in conservative Republican opposition to the legislation correlates with the National Rifle Association opposing the legislation for the first time since its inception in 2019 — when the NRA argued it began to infringe on 2nd amendment rights of those convicted of domestic violence crimes by preventing them from purchasing a firearm. 

Unlike 2019, experts predict that VAWA will get a vote in the Senate, and Senate Democrats and Republicans are currently working on compromises to address sticking points that could lead to a contentious debate on the bill. 

Rep. Cawthorn further explained his vote against VAWA by claiming that it doesn’t do enough and falls short of the original legislation’s purpose.

“Domestic violence, and other violent crimes directed primarily towards women, are unacceptable and must be addressed,” said Rep. Cawthorn. “Unfortunately, despite its name, the Violence Against Women Act would do little to address instances of domestic violence, while riding roughshod over individual liberties. I voted against the partisan, VAWA Reauthorization bill. Let me tell you why: this bill promotes unproven methods of victim treatment, restricts tools used to prosecute domestic violence cases, infringes upon Second Amendment rights, and fails to provide exemptions for religious organizations.”

Expanding on his vote against VAWA, Rep. Cawthorn stated, “Specifically, this bill, expands the due process concerns from the 2013 bill by broadening the tribal jurisdiction language. Promotes unproven “restorative practices” that could force a victim to confront their abuser face to face. Encourages policies that address the use of bench warrants, potentially limiting a tool that prosecutors use to protect victims of domestic violence.   Allows judges to deny Second Amendment rights on an ex-parte basis without due process. Fails to provide a religious hiring exemption or protections for faith-based organizations.”  

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