For more than three decades, advocates for crime victims' rights have been attempting to secure one of the most difficult of all legislative changes: an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In what is likely a purely symbolic gesture, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, this week joined Republican Reps. Trent Franks of Arizona and Ed Royce of California in reintroducing a victims' rights amendment that would become part of the Constitution. "Only a constitutional amendment will begin to change the culture that treats crime victims with less than fairness, dignity and respect to which they are entitled," Costa and the other members of Congress wrote.
As noble an issue as this may be, constitutional amendments are extraordinarily difficult to secure. An amendment must first win two-thirds' support in both the House and Senate, then must be ratified by 75 percent of the states. Another thorny obstacle is that many states, including California, already have victims' rights laws on the books, and federal lawmakers are reticent to change the Constitution when legislation that achieves the same objective can be enacted on the state level.
California's law, commonly called Marsy's Law, contains many of the provisions of the national proposal, including specifying that crime victims have the right to notice of public proceedings related to the offense, as well as the right to be heard in various proceedings.
The proposed amendment's greatest value might be in keeping the issue of victims' rights out front in the public consciousness. Legislative redundancy, however, should not be a hindrance to codifying those rights in the Constitution, unlikely as it might be.