Republicans Vote Against Strengthening Enforcement For Sexual Assault on Native American Women

Robin Marty

A bill to help law enforcement investigate sexual assaults and other crimes on Native American land is passed despite the objections of many Republicans.

When it comes to protecting people, the Republican Party has built its reputation on the idea that it is strong on defense and prosecution.  That makes it even more puzzling to learn the Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and 91 other Republicans voted against a bill that would make it easier to investigate crimes on tribal lands, especially those that involve sexual assault.

From the Minnesota Independent:

A bill aimed at helping Native American law enforcement investigate rape and other crimes by non-Indians on tribal lands passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support. Only one Minnesotan — Republican Michele Bachmann — voted against it.

The Tribal Law and Order Act passed last Wednesday as an amendment to HR 725 on a 326-92 vote, with votes from Minnesota Republicans Erik Paulsen and John Kline and Democrats Keith Ellison, James Oberstar, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz. It gives tribal police more authority in seeking prosecution of non-Natives who commit crimes on American Indian lands.

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So why did Rep. Bachmann vote against a bill that would help protect women and other victims of crime?  No one seems to be able to get an answer.

Bachmann’s communications director, Dave Dziock, didn’t return the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment on the Sixth District Republican’s no-vote.

Republicans elsewhere, however, have questioned the bill’s price tag, which some have estimated at $1.1 billion.

That’s a “myth,” Deer says. “There’s been some misunderstanding that it was going to be a high-dollar bill,” she told the Independent, noting that “there’s no mandatory spending” in the bill.

Deer wouldn’t speculate on why Bachmann opposes this important boost for Indian women, which President Obama is expected to sign into law soon, but she expressed some surprise.

“I’m not sure why she didn’t. It’s very much about prosecution. It’s a very law-and-order bill.”

According to Amnesty International, Native American women suffer sexual attacks at an alarmingly high rate.

Amnesty International USA addressed the issue in its 2007 report, Maze of Injustice: the Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA.

The report exposed the disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence that Native American and Alaska Native women suffer – 2.5 times higher than for non-native women in the United States.

78 Republicans and all Democrats voted for the bill, which will be signed into law on Thursday, July 29th.

News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Tie in Dollar General Case ‘Clear Victory’ for Tribal Sovereignty

Nicole Knight Shine

The case, Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, hinged on whether the tribe had the authority to resolve civil lawsuits involving non-members—in this case, a $20 billion company—on Native lands.

A U.S. Supreme Court tie on Thursday represented a win for tribal court authority in a case involving a Dollar General employee accused of molesting a 13-year-old more than a decade ago.

The case, Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, hinged on whether the tribe had the authority to resolve civil lawsuits involving non-members—in this case, a $20 billion company—on Native lands.

Justices deadlocked 4 to 4 in their opinion, leaving in place a federal appellate court decision that rejected Dollar General’s challenge to tribal court jurisdiction.

“It’s a clear victory,” said Mary Kathryn Nagle, counsel to the nonprofit National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), in an interview with Rewire. NIWRC filed an amicus brief in the case in favor of tribal sovereignty, along with 104 other organizations. “Dollar General spent a lot of time, and lot of money, and a lot of resources attempting to completely eliminate tribal jurisdiction.”

In 2003, Dale Townsend, a Dollar General store manager, allegedly engaged in repeated acts of sexual molestation at the store on a then-13-year-old Choctaw boy, who was placed there by a youth job-training program. The Dollar General store sits on tribal trust lands, agreed to Mississippi Choctaw tribal court jurisdiction regarding its store lease, and operates under a business license issued under Choctaw code.

In 1981, the Court ruled in Montana v. United States that tribal authority extends to non-Natives entering into consensual relationships with a tribe “through commercial dealing, contracts, leases, or other arrangements,” as SCOTUSblog wrote in the case preview.

Dollar General, however, argued the tribal court had no authority. In its appeal, the Tennessee-based corporation invoked a 1978 ruling, Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, in which the Supreme Court held that tribal courts lacked judicial power over non-members in criminal cases.

The boy’s case, however, was a civil matter. While the tribe’s attorney general took steps to bar the Dollar General manager from the reservation, the U.S. Attorney did not bring criminal charges against Townsend. The boy’s family is suing Dollar General and the store manager for damages in excess of $2.5 million, a case that can now continue in tribal court.

Advocates had called the closely watched case an “attack on tribal sovereignty.”

“Nowadays, it’s a very good thing when tribal rights and powers are freshly affirmed,” Robert Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center, told Rewire in a phone interview Thursday. “Had Justice Scalia been sitting on the Court, this case would have depended on Scalia’s vote. That’s why there was a great deal of concern and anxiety about the outcome of the case.”

The death of conservative Justice Scalia, and Republican gridlock, has left the highest court in the land with only eight justices.

“If Dollar General had been successful … tribal governments would have been stripped of their inherent jurisdiction over the majority of individuals attempting to harm their men, women, and children,” Nagle, counsel for NIWRC, told Rewire.

“In Indian country, our men, women, and children face the highest rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, and murder—higher than any other population in the United States,” she noted. “The U.S. Department of Justice has reported that the majority of these assaults are committed by non-Indians.”

When prosecutors decline to pursue these kinds of crimes, survivors have increasingly turned to civil courts for recourse.  

More than four out of five Native women are subjected to some form of violence, and 56 percent have experienced sexual violence, according to a May 2016 National Institute of Justice Research Report.

Mississippi Choctaw Tribal Chief Phyllis Anderson told the Associated Press that the Supreme Court tie was a positive outcome “not only for our tribe, but for all of Indian country.”

News LGBTQ

Republicans Shamed on House Floor for Anti-LGBTQ Vote

Christine Grimaldi

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Thursday as GOP leaders undermined a vote to counter an anti-LGBTQ provision in the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill.

The House initially voted 217 to 206 in favor of an amendment to nullify language undoing President Obama’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures for federal contractors found in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 4909), The Hill reported.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) moved to counter the NDAA provision during Thursday’s series of House votes on amendments to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017 (HR 4974).

GOP leaders kept the vote open after the clock ran out and pressured seven Republicans to change their ballots without making the changes in full view of lawmakers at the front of the chamber, resulting in a 213-212 loss for the amendment, according to The Hill.

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Twenty-nine Republicans ended up voting in favor of the Maloney amendment. The discriminatory language could be removed when a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers convenes to reconcile the differences between their defense authorization bills.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) authored the NDAA provision, which would hold federal contractors accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The protections and exemptions under these federal laws do not apply to LGBTQ people, undoing Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Obama didn’t bow to pressure from religious leaders to include broad religious exemptions.

“This is one of the ugliest episodes I’ve experienced in my three-plus years as a member of this House,” said Maloney, the amendment’s author, who is openly gay.

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) condemned the move in scathing terms after the failed vote.

“If we had done to the Republicans what was done to us, what was done to switch votes so that discrimination could prevail, there would be outrage expressed long into the night,” Hoyer said. Under that scenario, he said, Republicans would accuse Democrats of “undermining democracy, undermining this House, and making the House less than it should be.”

Hoyer took aim at House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who was not on the floor after the vote. The switch occurred “far beyond what Speaker Ryan has said ought to be the end of votes,” Hoyer said.

Ryan in a press conference denied any knowledge of the GOP’s floor maneuverings. “I don’t even know,” Ryan told reporters.

“This is federalism. The states should do this,” Ryan added. “The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business.”

Back on the floor, Hoyer wouldn’t name the lawmakers who switched their votes.

“Seven people who had voted not to allow discrimination decided perhaps that principle was not as important as they thought just a minute or so before,” Hoyer said. “And they will have themselves to look at tonight in the mirror.”

Hoyer’s office later confirmed the names of the Republican lawmakers—Reps. Jeff Denham (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Bruce Poliquin (ME), David Valadao (CA), Greg Walden (OR), Mimi Walters (CA) and David Young (IA)—to Rewire.

House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX), who denied a vote the day before on Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strike the anti-LGBTQ provision, said the Republican floor action did not amount to discrimination.

“First of all, let me say this: I am a Republican. We do not discriminate,” Sessions said in a back-and-forth with Hoyer.

Hoyer denied accusing Republicans of discrimination.

“I will not, at this point in time, hazard an opinion on that fact,” he said.