Published on Thursday, September 5, 2002 in the Washington Post
Ashcroft Appointments Assailed
Domestic Violence Law's Foes Tapped for Oversight Panel
by Dana Milbank
The Bush administration plans to appoint to its domestic-violence advisory committee two representatives of a group vigorously opposed to the law the committee oversees.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft last week invited Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum, to join the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women. He also invited to the committee one of the IWF's national advisory board members, Boston police detective Margot Hill, according to Pfotenhauer.
The committee is responsible for advising the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services on implementation of the Violence Against Women Act. The 1994 legislation, renewed in 2000, provides funds to track down domestic abusers, expand shelters for battered women and prevent violent crimes against women on college campuses.
The Clinton administration in 2000 credited the legislation for a 21 percent drop in violence against women. Ashcroft, in his confirmation hearings, promised to "vigorously enforce federal domestic violence laws and utilize the Violence Against Women Act to assist states in this effort."
Pfotenhauer's Independent Women's Forum, however, has waged a bitter fight against the legislation, providing congressional testimony in opposition and supporting a lawsuit challenging the act.
An article on its Web site entitled "Violence Against Taxpayers" said the legislation "will do nothing to protect women from crime" but would "perpetuate false information, waste money and urge vulnerable women to mistrust all men." Another IWF article said the legislation is based on "deceitful data" and argued that it "is not only unconstitutional, but often harmful to the victims it purports to help."
The appointments infuriated feminist groups. "I'm appalled but I'm not shocked," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. She said the IWF "makes light of violence against women on a regular basis."
Pfotenhauer said in an interview yesterday that her purpose was "not at all" to undo the law but to give states more flexibility in implementing it.
"You have to look at domestic violence as a culture of intimacy," she said, rather than a "one-size-fits-all, men-beat-up-women" framework.
Pfotenhauer said it was the first time her organization has been invited to join the committee. "I'd hope we've been asked to participate in this because we have a different view but one that's constructive," she said.
Advisory committees typically have a few dozen members serving staggered terms. The domestic-violence committee is dominated by Clinton appointees. Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said yesterday that she was unaware of how many new members were being appointed or what the composition of the committee would be. She said the appointments are not yet official because the large number of those invited have not yet responded to letters sent by Ashcroft.
In early 2000, the IWF filed an amicus curiae brief in a Supreme Court case challenging the legislation's "gender crimes" provision as unconstitutional, arguing that Congress did not have the power to allow victims of such violence to sue in federal courts.
The group argued in its 15-page brief that the legislation was a threat to states' rights and "the preservation of our liberty."
A sharply divided Supreme Court struck down part of the law, saying Congress overstepped its power when it gave women a right to sue their attackers. The 5-4 ruling, involving a college student who alleged she was raped by two football players, voided a provision meant to guarantee that victims of sexual assaults would not be dependent on local prosecutors' decisions and could themselves sue assailants in federal court. The Clinton administration had supported the woman's case, arguing that Congress had the authority to deter violence against women trying to travel or do business around the country.
In other writings on the IWF Web site, the group argues that "the battered women's movement has outlived its useful beginnings." The site also argues that the legislation "is based on ignorance, non-facts, and wishful thinking about the power of the federal government to curb violence between intimate partners."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company