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Sounds good? It isn't.

Last week, the Washington Times carried an op/ed piece by Senators Dianne Feinstein and John Kyl, promoting their Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment. (Or, rather, the "Feinstein-Kyl Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment." I know Washington is all about promoting oneself, but isn't it a little unseemly to name a proposal for a constitutional amendment eponymously?)

We need a victims' rights constitutional amendment because of people such as Roberta Roper, Sharon Christian, Ross and Betty Parks and Virginia Bell. Ms. Roper was denied the opportunity to watch the trial of her daughter's murderer; Ms. Christian was not informed of her rapist's release from custody and ran into him two weeks after the attack; Mr. and Mrs. Parks were never consulted regarding a seven-year delay in the trial of their daughter's killer; and Ms. Bell suffered debilitating and expensive injuries from a mugging but received only $387 in restitution.
All those sound like unpleasant experiences for the people involved, but it trivializes the constitution to suggest that it be amended to prevent them. To suggest that it's a good policy to notify victims when their attackers are being released is one thing; to suggest that someone should have a constitutional right to be so notified is quite another. The Constitution is a document to establish and limit the authority of government, not to hand out goodies. To say that criminal defendants have constitutional rights, but "crime victims have absolutely none" is just demagoguery. Crime victims have the same rights that criminal defendants do.

Indeed, it's not even clear what a constitutional amendment would accomplish in the instances described by the senators; most of them sound like bureaucratic failures, not constitutional ones. Indeed, as Feinstein and Kyl indicate, laws guaranteeing victims many "rights" already exist.

Moreover, mere state law has proven inadequate to protect victims' rights. For example, a U.S. Justice Department-sponsored report found that, even in states with strong legal protections for victims' rights, many victims are denied those rights. This report concluded that state safeguards are insufficient to guarantee victims' rights, and that only a federal constitutional amendment can ensure that crime victims receive the rights they are due.
See? If "victims are denied those rights," it's because someone isn't doing his job, isn't enforcing the law.  A constitutional amendment isn't magic; it still needs to be enforced just like any other law. If the Feinstein/Kyl logic is that the states ignore the law, then doesn't that suggest bigger problems with the government than whether there are victims' rights bills? And don't think that the government is incapable of ignoring constitutional amendments; from racial preferences to gun control, politicians treat the constitution as a mere suggestion when it suits them to do so.

So is there any real point here, other than pandering?


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