Public Papers

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Crime Victims' Rights Awards


Please be seated, and welcome. Welcome to the Rose Garden on this beautiful Friday. We're here to commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Week. I first salute the Attorney General, who is doing a superb job for our country in the whole area of law enforcement, Bill Barr, standing here. May I also single out Director Sessions, the head of the FBI, with us today. Bill, welcome, sir.

And to others, may I just say that the people seated in this garden are representatives of one of this country's strongest traits, compassion. And this compassion is the driving force behind the improvements that are balancing the scales of justice, strengthening the rights of the crime victims. For far too long, the agonizing experiences each victim must endure have been overlooked. The seldom-realized truth is that the crime is just the beginning of a process that will last months, if not years or lifetimes.

The award winners we honor today realize this fact. They've set out to improve, protect, and strengthen the rights of crime victims. As Attorney General Barr will explain shortly, each and every one of them is a hero worthy of saluting in this war on crime. But before the Attorney General begins the presentations, I would like to take this opportunity to reinforce our administration's commitment to the rights of crime victims. This administration, in particular the Department of Justice, has fought hard to make strides on behalf of the victims in the courtroom.

In 1991, we gained a landmark Supreme Court decision for crime victims in the case known as Payne versus Tennessee, a case which authorizes, against a constitutional challenge, the admission of victim impact evidence during the sentencing phase of capital cases. In the Payne versus Tennessee case, the Supreme Court recognized that the jury should be allowed to know the tragic impact that homicide crimes have on a survivor. In this case, the jury was allowed to know not only about the murderer's brutality toward his victims, but toward the survivors. The jury was allowed to know the pain and suffering caused 3-year-old Nicholas, the survivor of homicide victims, who missed his mother, Charisse, and his 2-year-old sister, Lacie. This decision rings of plain common sense, and it rings of fundamental fairness: A jury should know the victim, as well as the defendant.

I want to continue to see strides made in the courtroom. I've said it once, and let me just say it again: None of us should rest until all of our laws duly reflect the sympathy we should have for victims of crime. A key part of our program to make our cities safe again has been the appointment of judges who interpret the law and do not legislate from the bench. And that is exactly what I have done in naming these people to the bench.

This is a step in the right direction. And as we continue down the path of equal justice for accusers and the accused alike, we've encountered an uphill climb, frankly, one that is making our work more difficult and slowing the pace of progress considerably. As you know, that hill that I'm talking about is Capitol Hill with all of its special interest groups.

Here is just one typical example of what we are up against. In 1990, the Congress created 11 new circuit and 74 new district judgeships to help us wage the war on crime. And yet, two and a half weeks ago, special interest groups managed to postpone a vote on my nominee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Ed Carnes. Ed Carnes' nomination has been before the Senate since January 27th. He has first-rate credentials, strong support through his home State of Alabama. In addition, no Senator has yet indicated opposition. However, some interest groups, not the Senate but the interest groups, oppose his nomination. Their reason? As a prosecutor, Ed Carnes has actively campaigned against procedural technicalities designed to prevent imposition of the death penalty. Their course of action? To obtain a one-month postponement on the vote. And the justification? The nomination needed -- you've heard it before -- ``further study.''

Personally, I do not understand the priorities of those special interest groups. Why so little concern for the victims and so much for criminals? It is my hope that the Democratic leadership of the Senate agrees with this. And if so, they will not allow Mr. Carnes' nomination to be held hostage any longer and will vote on it immediately as scheduled upon their return. It is also my hope that they will resist future efforts to play politics with the courts and will not yield to any more requests for delay on this or other judicial nominations. [Applause] I see one person agrees. Those of you here today play an important role in stopping this practice by special interest groups. You must make your voices heard. Let Congress know that these interest groups do not speak for you. Believe me, it will make a real difference if you check in on this point.

I am proud of what this administration has accomplished on behalf of crime victims and their survivors. But I am even more proud of this Nation's compassionate citizens who identified a fault in the system and then, through citizen action, set out to correct it.

I thank you for your dedication, for your hard work, and applaud your successes. And I will now turn the meeting over to Attorney General Barr, asking him to do the honors. And may God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:02 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Following the President's remarks, Attorney General William P. Barr presented the awards to eight individuals for exemplary service on behalf of crime victims and their families and for achievements in defending the rights of crime victims.