Senate Dems Look to Pass the Hate Crimes Bill as Part of the DoD Authorization ActJuly 13, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
…so says the New York Times’ The Caucus Blog:
Senate Democrats said on Monday that they would seek to broaden the federal hate crimes law to protect victims of attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities.
To lift the chances of passage, Democrats said the legislation, known as the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would be attached as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill – a must-pass measure. […]
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he would introduce the bill as a bipartisan amendment to the defense authorization measure. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, is also a prime sponsor.
As the article notes, the hate crimes legislation stands a good chances of passing in the Senate. Since it’s not already part of the House-passed DoD Authorization bill, if it does pass, the fate of the amendment will be in the hands of a joint conference committee to decide if it will be included in the final version of the bill. The final version – hate crimes amendment or not – will then have to be voted on once again by both chambers of Congress.
Should it be included in the final DoD bill, it should have no problem getting through the House. A stand-alone House version of the hate crimes legislation (H.R. 1913) passed in April by a vote of 249-175.
The full text of the legislation can be read here.
This bill has been introduced into Congress every year since 1997 and has been extremely controversial. The bill would make several changes to federal hate crime laws, chief among them an expansion of the law to include violent acts motivated by the actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim.
The main pushback against the bill comes from religious groups. The Traditional Values Coalition, for example, says the bill “will be used to lay the legal foundation and framework to investigate, prosecute and persecute pastors, business owners, Bible teachers, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, Christian counselors, religious broadcasters and anyone else whose actions are based upon and reflect the truths found in the Bible.”
The ACLU on the other hand says the bill, if signed into law, would contain the strongest free speech protection in the entire federal criminal code. From an ACLU post urging support for the amendment:
On its face, the hate crimes amendment punishes only the conduct of intentionally selecting another person for violence because of that person’s race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The prosecution must prove the conduct of intentional selection of the victim. Thus, the hate crimes amendment, like the present principal criminal civil rights statute, 18 U.S.C. § 245 (“section 245”), punishes discrimination (an act), not bigotry (a belief).
Here is the key evidentiary provision from the bill text that is designed to protect free speech:
Evidence of expression or association of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing the impeachment of a witness.