WASHINGTON -- Leaders of a prominent tribal organization are demanding that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) retract comments this week that Native American courts are incapable of providing a fair trial to non-Native Americans.
Co-chairs of the Task Force on Violence Against Women for the National Congress of American Indians wrote in a letter to Grassley on Friday that they are "disappointed" in the senator's comments at a Wednesday town hall in Iowa. Grassley said at the meeting that he voted against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill this month because of a provision to give tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on reservations. He said his concern was that because reservations are made up of Native Americans, those jurists wouldn't be fair to non-Native Americans.
"If you have a jury, the jury is supposed to be a reflection of society," Grassley told his constituents. "Under the laws of our land, you've got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right? So the non-Indian doesn't get a fair trial."
Task force leaders said Grassley's remarks were offensive and factually wrong.
"We formally ask that you retract those statements as inaccurate and misleading," read the letter signed by task force's Juana Majel Dixon and Terri Henry.
They pointed to two problems with Grassley's comments. The Senate VAWA bill provides "clear language" that mandates that tribal juries provide fair and impartial hearings and that they represent cross-sections of the community, including non-Indians, the letter said. Secondly, the writers said, Grassley's remark "generally mischaracterizes" the ability of tribal courts to administer a fair system of justice.
"In other words, it presupposes that simply because there is a non-Indian in a tribal court, and an all-Indian jury or predominantly Indian jury, the court proceedings would inevitably result in an unfair trial," read the letter. "Or, more simply, Indian jurors would not be able to look objectively at the facts of the case, the testimony of the witnesses, and the brevity of the outcome on the defendant’s liberty, and make fair and impartial judgments on the matter."
The letter ends asking for Grassley's response to this "very sensitive issue."
Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said the senator hasn't received the letter yet. When he does, "he will respond to them directly, and not through the press," Levine said.
Still, Levine sought to clarify Grassley's comments. She said the bottom line is that Grassley and "many others" have concerns about the constitutionality of the tribal provision.
"The Constitution requires that a trial by jury fairly represent a cross-section of the community and that no juror be denied the right to serve based on race. Membership in Indian tribes is racially defined by law and tribes are not required to allow non-members to serve on juries," Levine said in a statement. "Senator Grassley is concerned that allowing tribal court juries to try non-Indians in Indian tribal courts may violate the rights to a jury trial and to the equal protection of the law that the Constitution guarantees."
Also on HuffPost:
99 Problems (JAY-Z)
Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
Just My Imagination (The Temptations)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)
Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
We Don't Care (Kanye West)
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."