Wicker Says Hate Crimes Provision Politicized Defense Bill

Senator Says Democrat Leadership Wrong to Use Military to Pass Controversial Bill

November 9, 2009

The defense authorization bill is an important item on Congress’ annual to-do list.  In past years, I have supported this legislation because it sets important policies for our military and our men and women in uniform.  This year, however, was different.  I could not support the defense bill because it also included completely unrelated legislation that broadened federal hate crimes law.  The provision, attached by Democrat leadership, expands hate crimes coverage to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”   

By attaching hate crimes legislation to the must-pass defense bill, Democrat leaders created a game of political “gotcha,” putting members of Congress in a position of having to vote against a bill important to our national defense and military in order to register their disapproval of the unrelated hate crimes measure.  It was wrong to hijack this bill in order to advance extremely controversial hate crimes legislation.  In response, I joined 28 other senators in voting against the final version of the bill, though it passed and was ultimately signed into law by President Obama. 

Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have consistently opposed efforts to expand federal hate crimes laws for a number of reasons, the least of which is because it violates the basic principle of equal justice under law.  Expanding hate crimes treats crimes against protected groups more seriously than non-protected groups. 

Make no mistake, every single American deserves to be protected from crime.  I have no sympathy for those who commit crimes, including those who would choose to harm someone based on their ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation.  However, I believe these are matters that should be handled at the state level. 

Under the recently-approved legislation, it is now a federal crime to attack someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  On the other hand, it is not a federal crime to attack a law enforcement officer, elderly person, or members of many other vulnerable groups in our society.
Of course, there are already state laws and state courts to adjudicate local crimes, including the types of acts the hate crimes measure was intended to address.  There is no evidence to suggest that states are not effectively prosecuting violent crimes.  During a congressional hearing earlier this year, none of the witnesses testifying in support of hate crimes expansion – including President Obama’s attorney general – could name any hate crimes cases in the past five years that have not been prosecuted by state and local authorities. 

                     MENACE TO CIVIL LIBERTIES
I am also concerned that the recently enacted hate crimes provision will make it possible for individuals to be prosecuted for the same crime in federal court after being acquitted in state court – something that runs against the intent of our Constitution. 

In June, the federal government’s independent Commission on Civil Rights delivered Senate leaders a letter that called the hate crimes provision a “menace” to civil liberties.  “Its most important effect will be to allow federal authorities to re-prosecute a broad category of defendants who have already been acquitted by state juries,” the letter said.  The group went on to write that the framers of the Bill of Rights “never dreamed that federal criminal jurisdiction would be expanded to the point where an astonishing proportion of crimes are now both state and federal offenses.” 

There were also a number of concerns raised about the potential of the hate crimes legislation to restrict free speech, especially in churches across our country.  Many feared that clergy and other religious leaders could be prosecuted for abetting hate crimes for simply speaking against homosexuality in church.  This concern was addressed through an amendment seeking to clarify that the new hate crimes law cannot be applied to infringe upon First Amendment rights.

The recent expansion of federal hate crimes goes against the intent of our Constitution, treats victims of the same crime differently, and is an unneeded federal intervention into state matters.  It was ill-conceived policy that should not have been passed, and never should have been included in the completely unrelated defense bill.