creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Jacob Sullum
Jacob Sullum
30 Jul 2014
Rand Paul's Theft Protection Plan: The Kentucky Senator's Forfeiture Reform Bill Would Limit the Government's License to Steal, Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act

In 2003, a Nebraska state trooper stopped Emiliano Gonzolez for speeding on Interstate 80 and found $124,700 … Read More.

23 Jul 2014
Drug War Refugees: Thousands of Central American Children Are Fleeing Prohibition-Related Violence

As thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America seek refuge in the United States, some … Read More.

16 Jul 2014
A Crime No Man Can Commit: Tennessee's Law Criminalizing Drug Use During Pregnancy Heaps Punishment on Reviled Women

Given the link between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and birth defects, should expectant mothers who … Read More.

Looking for Hate in All the Wrong Places

Comment

"Hate crimes have no place in America," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boldly declared last week, "no place in a nation where we pledge every morning 'with liberty and justice for all.'" Pelosi was urging her colleagues to approve a bill aimed at violence motivated by hostility toward members of certain designated groups.

According to Pelosi, then, the "justice for all" mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance means equal opportunity to be a crime victim. It certainly does not mean equality before the law, which the hate crime bill sacrifices by treating perpetrators of the same crime differently because they hold different beliefs.

The bill, which the House passed and President Bush has threatened to veto, expands the federal government's involvement in prosecuting bias-motivated crimes by eliminating the requirement that victims be engaged in a federally protected activity such as voting. It also adds four new bias categories (gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability) to the existing four (race, color, religion and national origin).

Religious conservatives warn that the bill, combined with existing federal penalties for anyone who "counsels," "commands" or "induces" someone else to commit a crime, could be used against a pastor who condemns homosexuality if one of his congregants later assaults gay people. This seems like a stretch, especially in light of the well-established First Amendment rule that speech can be punished in such a situation only if it is intended to incite "imminent lawless action" and is likely to do so.

But it's not a stretch to say that hate crime laws, by their very nature, punish people for their opinions. A mugger who robs a Jew because he's well-dressed is punished less severely than a mugger who robs a Jew based on the belief that Jews get their money only by cheating Christians. A thug who beats an old lady in a wheelchair just for fun is punished less severely than a thug who does so because he believes disabled people are leeches.

The rationale for such unequal treatment is that crimes motivated by bigotry do more damage than otherwise identical crimes with different motivations because of the fear they foster.

Yet random attacks arguably generate more fear, and hate crimes cause anxiety in the targeted group only when they're publicized as such. In any case, judges can take a crime's impact into account at sentencing.

Even if states were justified in punishing bigoted criminals more severely than merely vicious ones (as all but a handful currently do), the case for federal action would be weak. Unlike the situation in the Jim Crow South, there is no evidence that state and local officials are ignoring bias-motivated crimes.

The hate crime bill, which authorizes federal prosecution whenever the Justice Department perceives a bigoted motive and believes the perpetrator has not been punished severely enough, continues the unfortunate tendency to federalize crimes that are properly the business of state and local governments, just so legislators like Pelosi can show they care. Although the Bush administration claims to be concerned about this trend, the details of its objections to the bill (not to mention its history of supporting unconstitutional expansions of the federal government) suggest otherwise.

In federalizing bias-motivated crimes — potentially including every heterosexual rape, a crime that arguably is always committed "because of" the victim's gender — Congress claims to be exercising its authority to regulate interstate commerce. But the connection can be as tenuous as a weapon that has crossed state lines, interference with the victim's "economic activity" or anything else that "affects interstate or foreign commerce."

The president's complaint is not that such a broad definition of interstate commerce leaves nothing beyond the federal government's authority. It's that Congress neglected to include the all-purpose Commerce Clause boilerplate in one section of the bill. Contrary to the impression left by the Constitution, Congress evidently can do whatever it wants, as long as it says the magic words.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine, and his work appears in the new Reason anthology "Choice" (BenBella Books). To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC



Comments

0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
Jacob Sullum
Jul. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
29 30 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Ben Shapiro
Ben ShapiroUpdated 30 Jul 2014
Walter Williams
Walter E. WilliamsUpdated 30 Jul 2014
Michelle Malkin
Michelle MalkinUpdated 30 Jul 2014

8 Oct 2008 Pick Your Populism

29 Dec 2010 Follow the Bouncing Buck: The Year's Highlights in Blame Shifting

16 May 2007 Mystery of Violence