The Civil Rights Remedy of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act: Struck Down But Not Ruled Out

19 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2006


The 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was historic in many respects. Although federal legislation previously had addressed violence against women in a smattering of contexts, VAWA represented the first federal attempt comprehensively to address the myriad social and legal problems faced by victims of domestic and sexual violence. Perhaps the most controversial of VAWA's provisions was its civil rights remedy, which authorized a civil cause of action against the perpetrator modeled after other federal civil rights laws. The remedy sought both practical and aspirational goals: to afford a cause of action to victims who otherwise would be denied relief; and to transform the terms of debate in which domestic and sexual violence was framed.

The Supreme Court struck down the law as an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power in United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000). This article reviews and analyzes legal theories and strategies that remain available to those seeking redress for the civil rights violations violence against women produces. It briefly summarizes the civil rights remedy's history and reviews the analogous laws still available to victims. The article discusses new laws and legislative proposals modeled after the VAWA civil rights remedy but enacted by states and localities; state statutes that authorize civil recovery for bias-motivated violence, some of which have pre-dated VAWA; and both traditional and newly enacted laws prohibiting violent discrimination that interferes with victims' civil rights and prevents their economic independence and full civic participation.

Keywords: gender, civil rights, equality

Suggested Citation

Goldscheid, Julie, The Civil Rights Remedy of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act: Struck Down But Not Ruled Out. Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 39, p. 157, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Julie Goldscheid (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square Room 6-306
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States
718-340-4507 (Phone)
718-340-4275 (Fax)

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