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Try for Crime Victim Rights Amendment Fails in the Senate

By Art Pine

An effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would protect the rights of crime victims fizzled in the Senate on Thursday amid concern that altering the Constitution is the wrong way to address the issue.

With private vote counts showing that the proposal did not have the two-thirds support needed to pass a constitutional amendment, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her co-sponsor, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said that they would withdraw the legislation -- most likely for the rest of the session.

The decision to shelve the proposal marked a stunning setback for an idea whose time once seemed to have arrived.

Prodded by horror stories about the treatment of victims in criminal cases, Republicans quickly seized on the “bill of rights” concept in the mid-1990s. In 1996, President Clinton endorsed the idea in general, though he never specifically backed Feinstein’s proposed amendment.

Some 32 states already have passed amendments to their own constitutions to protect victims’ rights. But Feinstein and Kyl contended that the constitutional amendment was needed because the state measures had proved inadequate or were rarely enforced. “That’s what this is all about -- to give victims (legal) standing in the Constitution of the United States,” Feinstein said Thursday.

The Senate debated the proposed amendment throughout the week and opposition to the measure -- especially among many of the Senate’s key Democrats -- left little doubt that it was unlikely to pass.

“I think that there has been an erosion of support,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Thursday.

The opposition stemmed from a wide array of concerns: Civil libertarians warned that granting formal rights to victims might end up eroding legal protections for the accused. The White House had qualms about a recently added clause that would require the White House to give victims a voice in any pardons granted by presidents.

By far the most important factor, however, was a reluctance by many senators to amending the Constitution rather than simply passing a federal law that would provide legal protections for victims.

Feinstein and Kyl’s proposed amendment was designed to guarantee victims of violent crimes rights regarding the way cases are handled.