Slate.com just completed a series featuring short articles by prominent legal thinkers titled “How Can We Fix the Constitution?” Among the submissions was a piece by former federal judge Paul Cassell, recommending a Victims’ Rights Amendment. Cassell, a George W. Bush judicial appointee who served as a federal district judge in Utah for over five years, argues that an increase in the rights of victims does not necessarily result in a decrease in the rights of the accused. For example, he notes that “even in several states identified as giving ‘strong protection’ to victims’ rights, fewer than 60 percent of victims were notified when defendants were sentenced and fewer than 40 percent were notified of the pretrial release of the defendant.” As Cassell explains, it’s hard to see how the rights of the accused are diminished merely by granting victims greater rights to notice of the sentencing proceedings.
The case for an amendment, however, isn’t a slam dunk. Cassell acknowledges the concerns of “opponents [who] have argued that the rights of crime victims do not belong to be in the Constitution because they do not concern the country’s political architecture.”
Nevertheless, Cassell is a strong advocate of the amendment. His entire piece, which includes the language for a Victims’ Rights Amendment proposed in the current Congress can be read here. Cassell has also drafted a Utah Law Review article defending the amendment which can be read here.