The House of Representatives has just passed a federal bill on “hate crimes,” which seems headed for a White House veto, if it manages to pass the Senate. This has heightened attention to the half of the several states which also have “hate crime” laws.
There are only two things wrong with the state laws: they are useless and arbitrary. There is a third problem with the federal version. It violates the Constitution.
Every “hate crime” law is based on the commission of an ordinary crime. Attacking, harming, or killing any citizen IS a crime to begin with. Damaging someone’s property, whether burning a cross on someone’s lawn or any other means, is a crime. People who commit such crimes are routinely tried, convicted and punished, whether or not the jurisdiction has a “hate crime” law.
Judges have some discretion in passing sentences, and legislatures have authority at any time to increase the penalties which judges can, or must, impose. All that “hate crime” laws do is increase the penalty depending on the categories of the criminal and the victim. As if anyone murders anyone else because they love them, rather than hate them, though O.J. Simpson comes to mind.
These laws are also arbitrary, because both prosecutors and press focus on “hate crimes” against blacks by whites, but not the reverse, or against homosexuals by heterosexuals, but not the reverse. So, the published statistics on “hate crimes” are no better than the quality of the reporting, which is dubious at best.
The last point about the proposed federal law is that criminal law is a state matter. Other than crimes against federal personnel or property, the definition of what acts are criminal and what penalties should be applied, belongs to the state legislatures, not to Congress. So said Madison, Hamilton and Jay in the Federalist papers, and they were right.
The bottom line is this: “hate crime” legislation is political pandering for votes from whatever group is apparently benefited by being named as a protected group. This will continue until the vast majority of Americans realize that the reverse is true. Such laws necessarily say to most Americans that it is less important to the government and the courts if your property is damaged, or you are attacked, or a member of your family is killed.
For now, that message is being sent to the American people by the House of Representatives through the bill they have just passed.