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It seems that on those few occasions that I stand up for
congressional Republicans, they always make me eat my words. Last week,
under cover of darkness, and with the anonymity of voice vote, the
Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
I loathe hate-crime bills in general, but this one is particularly
venal because it involves such an overreaching exercise of federal
authority, as I will explain.
A similar bill failed to pass last year, but this time there was not
even any vocal opposition to the measure. But that was before a series
of highly publicized “hate-crimes” had been committed. Those included
the dragging death of a black man in Texas, the fatal flogging of a gay
college student in Wyoming and the recent shooting spree in Illinois and
Indiana by a man allegedly part of a white supremacist group.
You’ll recall that the mass murder in Littleton, Colo., served as a
catalyst for ambitious gun control legislation that almost passed, and
still might, in the near future.
If Congress is so anxious to enact laws, perhaps, during a lucid
interval, they should pass a bill preventing “remedial” legislation
within one year of a high profile event that hijacks their emotions.
But in truth, the Democrats’ emotions aren’t remotely involved in the
passage of such laws. They are completely rational when they use these
types of events to energize legislation. In fact, Clinton admitted to
the tactic during the gun control debates.
Republicans, on the other hand, may be operating out of an emotion:
fear. When Democrats propose legislation promising to prevent future
Littletons, racial beatings, or whatever, Republicans are scared to
oppose it for fear of being falsely labeled as bigots.
Hate-crime legislation establishes stiffer penalties for violent
crimes motivated by hatred against certain protected classes of
individuals. Currently, federal law covers race, color, religion or
national origin. The new Senate bill adds the categories of sexual
orientation, gender and disability.
So if you criminally assault a person because he/she is a member of a
protected class you are not only guilty of assault, but of a hate-crime
The title of the bill suggests that its purpose is to deter
hate-crimes. But that is wholly unrealistic. Would such legislation have
deterred that cretin from dragging to death the black man in Texas? No
more than the new gun control measure would have prevented any deaths in
Littleton! Besides, I thought liberals didn’t believe in deterrence, or
legislating morality, for that matter.
Hate-crime legislation is foreign to our system of criminal
jurisprudence. Why, for example, is battery worse if motivated by hatred
of one’s sexual orientation than, say, his wealth. Is it more acceptable
to beat a man because he is rich than because he is homosexual? How
about a poor man? A stupid (but not disabled) man? The possibilities are
Our criminal law punishes bad conduct, not bad thought. In the above
example, the act is the same in both cases: battery. By enacting
gradations of offenses based on the underlying motivation, we are
criminalizing thought. That’s even more destructive to our freedom than
criminalizing constitutionally protected speech.
This bill is especially objectionable because it expands federal
jurisdiction over criminal activity properly left to the states. Under
current law, the federal government can prosecute hate-motivated
violence if the victim was on federal property or engaged in a federally
protected activity, such as going to school. The Senate bill expands
that to cover any incident related to interstate commerce (which,
according to the Supreme Court, is about anything).
The federal government has no business usurping state law in such
matters. But liberals in Washington just cannot resist the urge to
micromanage our lives.
The purpose of the Hate-Crimes Prevention Act is not to prevent
hate-crimes, but to enable its proponents to score political points with
their core constituencies. No one believes that it will curb violence of
the type it outlaws. Yet they cynically manipulate the legislative
process with symbolism over substance.
In the name of color-blindness, they perpetuate color-consciousness.
Ultimately, they exploit the very people they pretend to protect.
But the saddest thing about the legislation is not that it passed,
but why it passed: an absence of moral courage in the face of political
As General MacArthur observed, “The world is in a constant conspiracy
against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle — the roar of the crowd on
the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other.”