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Blasting the Victims' Rights Amendment

The latest former politician to blast the Victims' Rights Amendment is none other than former Congressman Bob Barr:

The circus is back in town. Every two years, as we roll around to another grand Olympics of federal, state and local elections, the hopper in Congress begins to fill up with dangerous and unnecessary amendments to our U.S. Constitution.

...In the American political system, the Constitution was meant to operate like people who freeze their credit cards in a block of ice. That is, when faced with supremely important and emotional decisions involving things like the censorship of unpopular ideas or the seizure of firearms, the Constitution makes us walk to the corner and take a time out.

As to the Victims' Rights Amendment, Barr correctly notes:

Pushed by a mixture of Democrats and Republicans feeling they need to burnish their tough-on-crime badges, the VRA would be a disaster for basic principles of fairness and dispassion in our criminal justice system. It would guarantee victims of crime — a loosely defined term in the legislation — the "right" to notice, to be present and to speak at an array of judicial proceedings, including those dealing with bail, trial, sentencing and parole. It also requires the court to take victims into account in deciding whether to release prisoners or when to schedule a trial. But, as with many of these other amendments, it is seriously flawed. Foremost among its problems is that it will, ironically, obstruct justice.

....the VRA also threatens basic due process protections and objectivity in the criminal justice system by making it more about vengeance than justice. We trust our adversarial process — which pits zealous advocates against one another in front of a judge and jury — to arrive at the best approximation of the truth in criminal prosecutions, which helps ensure the guilty are punished and the innocent go free. However, when one injects the emotion of a murder victim's family into a bail or a parole hearing, that adversarial system is thrown directly out of whack. The defense counsel then faces an onslaught of vindictiveness that cannot be countered by facts or logic. Justice must remain blindfolded to be effective. Otherwise, we will have vigilante posses waiting outside with lit torches and nooses tied every time something really sensational goes to trial.

Finally, in an ironic twist that really hammers home the folly of such constitutional amendments, the vast majority of states — and the federal government — already have laws on the books protecting victims and ensuring their interests are not forgotten as their cases progress through the system. The bottom line with the Victims Rights Amendment and its ilk is that the Constitution should not be co-opted as the tag line for a political attack ad. It is arguably the most sacred secular document in the history of the world, as it has kept humanity's strongest democracy healthy long enough to also make it humanity's oldest democracy.

Here's our action alert on the VRA--add your voice and oppose this unnecessary, unwise attempt to amend the constitution. Don't let them treat the Constitution like a rough draft. For more reasons to oppose the VRA, go here.

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