WASHINGTON, November 14, 2011—Responding to criticism from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and others, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will drop a provision in a draft of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 that would have required college students accused of sexual assault to be tried under the weak "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof.
The Burlington Free Press (Vt.) quoted Erica Chabot, spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, as saying, "Because of the feedback [Sen. Leahy] has received concerning this proposal, he does not plan to include it in the bill he later will introduce."
"FIRE thanks Senator Leahy and all of the legislators and members of the public who brought their concerns to the Committee for working to remove this provision from the new draft of the Violence Against Women Act," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "As I said when we asked FIRE supporters to oppose this provision, reducing protections for students accused of serious misconduct will not increase justice."
On October 31, FIRE called on its supporters to contact their senators and ask them not to support or cosponsor the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) unless new provisions threatening student rights were removed. The provisions came from the draft’s incorporation of elements of the proposed Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which contains nearly identical requirements and similarly restricts fundamental due process rights. The Campus SaVE Act, in turn, aims to codify into law the damage already done to student due process rights by new regulations from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. FIRE also has been leading the charge against these new regulations.
"We’re grateful that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have realized that this harmful provision does not belong in the Violence Against Women Act," said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. "We hope that the Office for Civil Rights, which after six months still has produced no response to FIRE’s letter pointing out the myriad problems with its new regulations, will realize that stripping students of due process rights is wrong not only in federal law but also in its own mandates."
FIRE continues to harbor concern about the previous draft bill’s requirement that colleges must maintain "procedures for the accused and the victim [emphasis added] to appeal the results of the institutional disciplinary proceeding." The requirement contradicts the principle behind the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on "double jeopardy," whereby someone accused of a crime cannot be tried again for the same charge once the original hearing has properly ended in either acquittal or conviction. FIRE is uncertain if this provision will be included in the next version of the draft bill.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.