President Clinton has gotten into the shameless habit of swiping good Republican ideas and repackaging them as his own. But now he is on the verge of lifting a bad one: a constitutional amendment on victims' rights.
The only worthwhile feature about the amendment is its feel-good name. Who can quarrel with helping victims? Especially in an election year.But the amendment - endorsed earlier by Republican rival Bob Dole - does nothing that Congress and the state legislatures couldn't do tomorrow if they so desired. Some provisions of the amendment are already law in most states, including Utah. And much of what the federal amendment would address, state criminal laws and state court procedures, might produce a constitutional problem of its own.
While a federal amendment could achieve more uniformity, it would also take away the freedom and flexibility of states to individualize laws and enforcement to fit their varying circumstances.
Scripps Howard News Service reports that the version of the amendment being mulled by the White House for Clinton's endorsement would undertake to guarantee speedy trials, the right of victims to sue for restitution, to be protected from intimidation, to be notified of court proceedings, paroles and escapes.
Much of what the amendment proposes to remedy - speedy trials, victim protection - is largely a matter of money and manpower, neither of which the amendment provides or requires.
An insidious drawback to this amendment and others like it is that they are "fire-and-forget" solutions. The president and Congress can always say, "Sure, we did something about victims' rights. We passed a constitutional amendment."
If they were serious, they could provide extra funding for extra judges, prosecutors and public defenders for speedy trials and then go before the voters to defend the wisdom of their spending and the new taxes to pay for it.
That would be far more effective than creating a whole new class of "rights," the exercise of which or the perceived abridgment of which would only tie up the courts further.