In ordering the Davis County sheriff to enforce the spouse-abuse law passed by the 1990 Legislature - at least until the law's constitutionality has been tested before a judge - the Utah Supreme Court this week made a sensible ruling that should help protect battered wives.
Lawmakers took a giant step earlier this year when they passed tough spouse-abuse legislation. The measure required police to arrest or issue a citation to a person suspected of domestic violence, and in some cases, required officers to eject a wife-beater from the home for 24 to 96 hours, until he could appear before a judge.Victims of spouse abuse had complained previously that police only broke up domestic violence, but did nothing to remove the attacker from the scene. Studies in other states showed that when abusers went to jail, the incidence of domestic violence was reduced.
The tough new law went into effect in April, but was immediately weakened when Attorney General Paul Van Dam issued an opinion questioning the law's constitutionality. He said ordering a man from his home without a judicial hearing could violate his rights.
That uncertainty caused the Statewide Association of Prosecutors to suggest to its members that the "no contact" provision of the law not be enforced. Some counties followed that advice.
Some legislators were angered over the attorney general's exercising what they called a "veto" over their action, especially since the issue had not been resolved in a court case.
This week's Supreme Court decision did not answer the question over the law's constitutionality. It merely said that the law should be enforced until the issue is decided by some court.
With a new Legislature due to meet in January, questions about the spouse-abuse law may be resolved without a lawsuit. In the meantime, as the existing law is enforced, abused wives will have a greater measure of protection. That is the way it should be.