Ruling In Genital Mutilation Case Shocks Women's Advocates












In this April 21, 2017 file photo, FBI agents leave the office of Dr. Fakhruddin Attar at the Burhani Clinic in Livonia, Mich., after completing a search for documents. A federal judge dismissed some charges Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, against eight people, including two doctors, in the genital mutilation of nine girls at the suburban Detroit clinic, finding it's up to states rather than Congress to regulate the practice. (Clarence Tabb Jr. /Detroit News via AP, File) 

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Women’s rights advocates said they were shocked when a federal judge in Michigan ruled this week that a law protecting girls from genital mutilation was unconstitutional. They called his decision a serious blow to girls’ rights. Legal experts said the judge made clear that U.S. states have authority to ban the practice, though only about half do.

Here is a look at the ruling, which dismissed several charges against a doctor accused of cutting nine girls in three states as part of a religious custom, and what could happen next.

FILE - In this April 21, 2017 file photo, FBI agents leave the office of Dr. Fakhruddin Attar at the Burhani Clinic in Livonia, Mich., after completing a search for documents. A federal judge dismissed some charges Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, against eight people, including two doctors, in the genital mutilation of nine girls at the suburban Detroit clinic, finding it's up to states rather than Congress to regulate the practice. (Clarence Tabb Jr. /Detroit News via AP, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Women’s rights advocates said they were shocked when a federal judge in Michigan ruled this week that a law protecting girls from genital mutilation was unconstitutional. They called his decision a serious blow to girls’ rights. Legal experts said the judge made clear that U.S. states have authority to ban the practice, though only about half do.

Here is a look at the ruling, which dismissed several charges against a doctor accused of cutting nine girls in three states as part of a religious custom, and what could happen next.

THE RULING, SIMPLIFIED

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was among eight people charged in federal court in Michigan in connection with the genital mutilation of nine girls from Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois between 2015 and 2017. Authorities alleged that mothers brought their girls to Nagarwala when they were roughly 7 years old for the procedure.

Nagarwala has denied any crime was committed and said she performed a religious custom on girls from her Muslim sect, the India-based Dawoodi Bohra.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman threw out mutilation and conspiracy charges against all the defendants. He ruled that a 1996 federal law that bans female genital mutilation was unconstitutional because Congress didn’t have the power to regulate the behavior in the first place.

Heidi Kitrosser, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, explained that Congress doesn’t have unlimited authority to legislate and can only make laws that fall within powers explicitly outlined in the Constitution.

In this case, Friedman found that Congress lacked authority to regulate the practice under the Commerce Clause because the procedure is not a commercial activity. He also said Congress’ treaty powers don’t give it authority, because there was no rational relationship between treaty obligations that call for equal rights and a law banning genital mutilation.

But the judge clearly stated that the power to regulate female genital mutilation lies with state governments, which have primary authority in defining and enforcing criminal law.

“The court really could not have been clearer in suggesting this is something that states can do,” Kitrosser said.
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