Jews fear Supreme Court ruling might harm hate crimes statutes

Many Jewish groups had filed briefs in support of the act, arguing that state courts failed to take suits involving domestic violence seriously and that the act provided additional protection for victims of gender-based violence.

In its 5-4 decision, however, the court said Congress had overstepped its bounds and should not be able to regulate gender-motivated violence based on its impact on interstate commerce.

The justices are continuing a trend to restrict Congress from authorizing federal intervention in criminal investigations unless there is an economic impact.

The National Council of Jewish Women was one of several Jewish groups expressing disappointment in the decision, saying the court's opinion "assures that women will have one less option for safety and survival." But aside from the issue of women's ability to sue in federal courts, some groups believe the ruling could hurt pending federal hate crimes legislation.

The legislation would allow federal investigations into bias-motivated crimes based on gender, sexual orientation or disability.

The case, U.S. vs. Morrison, continues a "troubling and disturbing" trend toward restricting congressional authority, according to Jeffrey Sinensky, director for national affairs and legal counsel for the American Jewish Committee.

Sinensky said there is a fear about the future of hate crimes legislation as long as the current majority is in place.

"If you were to pass federal hate crimes legislation tomorrow, it would be challenged immediately," remarked Marc Stern, co-director of the American Jewish Congress' legal department.

Stern believes the Supreme Court's latest hold on federalizing criminal behavior will have a great impact on the legislative agendas of Jewish organizations that tend to focus their attention on Washington.

"The Jewish community will have to reorient itself toward the states," Stern said.