Supreme Court Spins Gender Violence Fairy Tale

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The outrages came in a set of three this week.

Number One: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a big fan of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas by the way, announced he and four other justices had invalidated a law permitting victims of gender-based violence to sue their attackers in federal court.

Rehnquist, whose black robe is adorned with four gold stripes like that of the exceedingly pompous and self-important Lord Chancellor in a G&S production, declared that “gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense, economic activity.”

He also went on and on about how the court’s Civil Rights decisions of the 1880s–when Lord Chancellor first took to the stage and when Reconstruction was in full swing–were just fine enough to protect the citizenry. (Those rulings declared Congress could not enact laws to protect individuals from violations of their civil rights unless the state itself was the violator. That means that Congress is powerless to do anything about it if a bunch of folks start wearing sheets over their heads and begin systematically terrorizing members of another group–intimidating them from voting or working at certain professions or walking freely about at night, that kind of thing–that protecting the terrorized must remain up to the states (or local law enforcement authorities).

Number Two: On Wednesday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (no relation to Supreme Court justices) issued its report on “homicide of intimates” or domestic violence deaths.

The good news? The number of men, white and black, murdered by intimates has dropped 60 percent since 1976. Black men seemed to have gained the most from the anti-domestic violence movement: Their intimate violence death rate dropped 76 percent over the past two decades.

The bad news? The death rate for white women rose slightly in 1998 and they are now about twice as likely to die as the result of domestic violence as white men. Moreover, black women are about twice as likely to die at the hands of a partner as white women.

Number Three: On Friday, the Center for Policy Alternatives issued a report on women’s economic progress in the U.S. since 1995. Despite the longest-lasting economic boom in history, the percentage of women in poverty increased in 18 states during the last decade. The states include Arizona (where Justice Rehnquist once lived), New York, California, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia (where Justice Rehnquist now presides).

Is there a connection between item number two and three? Justice Rehnquist says no, but on the other hand, without going on an on about the Gilbert & Sullivan thing, it is worth noting that the operetta in which the Lord Chancellor appears also features immortal fairies. Perhaps, and only perhaps, his taste in judicial robes indicates he actually believes in fairies and such tales as gender-motivated violence has no link to women’s poverty and that Reconstruction-era legal decisions should live forever.

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