Civil Liberties

Obama Signs Federal Hate Crime Law

|

Today President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Bird Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. At best, it's a feel-good law that will accomplish nothing. At worst, it will undermine the division of powers between the states and the national government by federalizing a wide range of violent crimes, further erode the constitutional ban on double jeopardy by inviting serial prosecutions for the same offense, and impinge on freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The threat to First Amendment rights is twofold: 1) Like other hate crime statutes, the law imposes extra punishment based on defendants' beliefs, and 2) it could be used as an excuse to investigate and/or prosecute people for aiding and abetting hate crimes through provocative speech.

My last column about the law is here. More on hate crimes here.

NEXT: Power to the People

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Yo, fuck Barack Obama.

    Oh shit, i’m inciting, aren’t i?

  2. Jacob,

    further erode the constitutional ban on double jeopardy by inviting serial prosecutions for the same offense

    That is inaccurate. They are making a new offense, but one act can trigger multiple offenses.

    I do agree with you that they should not be passing this law to begin with.

  3. Probably won’t do too much to prevent anything. But it’s not completely illegitimate to consider crimes against a community or protected class of people as deserving of more punishment. Motive is always a consideration. Is the fact that we differentiate between 1st and 2nd degree murder a threat to free speech as well?

    1. Careful Tony. You’re approaching Michael Bay levels of stupidity with your posts.

    2. “protected class of people”

      if a particular class of people have government protection within the justice system, how is this not discrimination?

      1st and 2nd degree have nothing to do with motive and everything to do with forethought.

      It doesn’t matter if I kill you to take your money or just because I really don’t like you.

      Whether I’m charged with 1st or 2nd degree depends on whether I planned the murder(1st), or whether it was spontaneous/accidental.

      1. Yeah, so they’re imposing a harsher penalty based on what’s inside your head at the time of the murder. Is that a threat to freedom of conscience or not?

        1. Whether you acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently is relevant to your culpability for the act you committed. Whether you hate women/African-Americans/gays/lesbians is not.

          1. You’re begging the question.

            There’s a corpse. It’s no deader because I acted intentionally rather than negligently. Yet a prosecutor is gonna try to prove what’s going on inside my head so that I can be punished more harshly.

            Hate crimes legislation is simply about adding to the list of things going on inside one’s head that can be considered in determining culpability, i.e., animus toward a protected class.

            Now that can’t by itself be a threat to free thought if considerations of intentionality aren’t too. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea either. But it’s not beyond the realm of plausibility that crimes against a group of people should be treated more strictly than crimes against individuals, even if the corpse left behind is just as dead regardless.

            1. You misunderstand what culpability is. The law takes notice of culpability because (under Western values and probably in other cultures) punishment should be proportionate to the actor’s degree of fault. A driver who runs down a pedestrian accidentally while having a stroke is less culpable than a driver who runs down a pedestrian intentionally.

              How does running down a pedestrian because he’s brown increase the driver’s level of fault over a driver who runs down a pedestrian because the driver’s pissed off and just feels like killing somebody? Either way, the driver is acting intentionally.

              1. FTR, I am not necessarily a proponent of hate crimes laws.

                But in their defense, I would say that attacking someone because of their race, gender, etc., is considered a worse offense than attacking someone randomly for various reasons: the fear spread to other members of that class, the fact that our society (in particular) has an interest in deterring “hate” among classes, etc.

                1. As opposed to random crimes, which spread fear to nobody, right?

                2. So by passing a hate crimes bill that leaves me out of any protected class, isn’t the law saying my life is not as important as the lives of those in a protected class? Some pigs are apparently more equal because it matters more when you kill them for the wrong reasons.

                  Of course, we could also discuss why it’s especially obnoxious to name this bill after James Byrd, since it would have made no difference in the fate of his killers. It’s hard to enhance the death penalty.

                  1. Yes, I dislike the whole idea of “protected classes.” And the idea of “historically oppressed minorities,” as if what happened to your great-great grandfather should have any bearing on the way the law works today. (Fun fact: in U.S. law, Jews are not considered an “historically oppressed minority.”)

                3. the fact that our society (in particular) has an interest in deterring “hate” among classes, etc.

                  Our “society” may or may not have that goal but our government most certainly has no business providing favor or disfavor to any class.

                4. Let’s assume you’re right that “attacking someone because of their race, gender, etc., is considered a worse offense.” It’s considered a worse offense because people don’t like the ideas of the defendant. The simple fact of singling someone out (for whatever reason) because of his/her race/sex/sexual orientation/religion is not inherently offensive. People do it all the time. What’s offensive are the hateful ideas held by the defendant. Without the hateful ideas, singling out by itself would not strike most people as worse.

              2. It’s astonishing to me that so many fail to see the clear and simple logic behind these laws: hate crimes cause greater harm than similar crimes based on other motives. The murder of a person because he was disliked as an individual harms the individual and those that care about him. The murder of a person because he was a member of a hated group also harms all members of that group, producing fear and intimidation. Hate crimes are simply small acts of terrorism. They are not so much about attacking a person as they are about attacking a group.

                I also question whether it’s fair to say that this creates a protected class. I believe the law specifies crimes motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim … we all have a sexual orientation (even non-sexual is an orientation of sorts).

                1. Like when a black guy mugs a white guy and all white people become afraid of black people, right?

                  1. Exactly like that, if it is clear that race was the motivation for the attack. As with sexual orientation, I believe the hate crime laws specify crimes based on race … not crimes against minorities.

                2. It’s astonishing to me that so many fail to see the clear and simple logic behind these laws

                  We see the logic. And we also see the threat to free speech.

                  1. If you see the logic, why do all of your arguments seem based solely on harm to the individual victim and completely ignore harm to the group? If you want to argue that your view of protected free speech (I can say anything, anytime, about anyone, for any reason, and get a free pass) is more important than the protection of a group against intimidation and terrorism, then make that argument. So far, you haven’t. I don’t believe a complete free pass to say anything, anytime was what the founding fathers intended. More importantly, in numerous cases, it is not what the Supreme Court — the only people whose opinion counts when it comes to interpreting the Constitution — have decided.

                    1. harm to the group

                      Citation needed.

                      More importantly, in numerous cases, it is not what the Supreme Court — the only people whose opinion counts when it comes to interpreting the Constitution — have decided.

                      I assume you’re referring to Wisconsin v. Mitchell. If so, the Supreme Court got it wrong.

                3. Let’s take this to the logical extreme.

                  The smallest minority is an individual (to paraphrase Rand).

                  If the law simply protects the individual from the initiation of violence, it accomplishes the desired effect. The protection of the smallest minority.

                  Hate crime laws are simply vehicles for federal prosecutorial abuse. Civil rights laws already exist for situations where the states do not follow through on their responsibilities to protect their citizenry in whole.

                4. Hate crimes are simply small acts of terrorism. They are not so much about attacking a person as they are about attacking a group.

                  Are you saying that some groups are more important or superior than others?

                  Sounds awfully familiar.

                5. Scott,

                  If someone broke into the house of a family who lives on my street and murdered them in the course of a burglary, or out of sheer bloodlust, or whatever, that would terrify everyone in the neighborhood, whatever their race. Violent crimes committed for all sorts of motives cause fear and intimidation. Hate crimes are not special in that regard.

            2. Groups don’t have rights. Individuals do.

              The only protcted class we need is “humanity.” You know, judging a man by his actions and not the color of his skin and all that.

              1. Hating something isn’t a crime.

                Murdering a person is.

                I want to be free to hate whatever I want, and well as love whatever I want.

                1. Hating something isn’t a crime.

                  Murdering a person is.

                  So is hating someone now.

    3. Probably Definitely won’t do too much anything to prevent anything evil from being done. But Moreover, it’s not completely illegitimate to consider crimes against what meddlesome government bureaucrats define as a community or protected class of people as deserving of more punishment. Motive is always a consideration for grievance mongers and other lawyerly parasites.

  4. There’s going to be some festival or parade to celebreate the signing, right?

    1. With lots of raibows, balloons, glitter and leather chaps.

    2. to celebreate the signing

      If by “celebreate” you mean “get drunk,” then yes, yes I will.

  5. I am sure it has been said before but Matthew Shepard’s killers were each two consecutive life sentences. Two of the three killers of James Byrd (correct spelling) were given death sentences, the other life. All that without this ridiculous law.

    1. But they could have been given 3 life sentences and sentenced them to death twice with this law.

      1. You have to kill these guys…and then kill ’em some more.

        double tap?

        1. It means we can turn the juice up to 11.

        2. ALWAYS double tap

    2. Also, at least one of Matthew Shepard’s killers would have gotten the death penalty if his parents had not tesfiied and asked that it no be applied.

      I’m afraid I lost some of the respect that I had for his mother when she came out in favor of this thing.

    3. Maybe they could execute people convicted of hate crimes, then hire some Tibetan lamas to find out where they’ve reincarnated, hunt them down, and kill them again.

  6. I hate Obama and I hate hate crimes and I hate hate crimes laws.

    Any crime I commit will be out of love, motherfuckers.

  7. So I can beat the shit out of fags …just not because they’re fags?

    1. Yup.

      1. Allow me to clarify and raise a concern. Were I to kill Tony, it would not be because he’s gay, but rather, becvause he’s an annoying retard and as I understand it, retards are not yet a protected class.

        My concern, is that because Tony is gay, the DA might erroneously charge me with a hate crime.

        1. The new law covers people who target their victims because of disability. I’m pretty sure mental retardation qualifies as a disability under federal law. So no dice, you’d get slapped down by the feds.

          1. To be honest about it, the new law covers everyone except normal, healthy, straight, white males – everyone else is a protected class. That will be the results of it anyway.

    2. The problem will be when the issue of the beaten person is tangentially that he is gay, but not the reason for the beating. I guarantee some “tough on crime” prosecutor will “see if we can prosecute under the hate law” to double the sentence.

      1. That is what’s known in the biz as a no-brainer.

      2. Which is in fact what happened with Matthew Shephard in whose memory the Congress and Obama has passed this affront equality under the law and freedom of thought.

      3. Which is in fact what happened with Matthew Shephard in whose memory the Congress and Obama has passed this affront equality under the law and freedom of thought.

    3. I hope me and my Glock 9mm encounter you someday, Troy.

      I really do.

      1. No need for self-defense or retribution any longer Bill, you’re protected now. Your life is now worth more than heterosexuals who are only killed for their cash or jackets.

        So, chill and just enjoy the moment.

        They won’t let you get married, but hey, at least you’ve got protection.

    4. troy =/= Tony, guys.

      1. troy =/= Tony, guys. At least as far as we know. But then again, maybe troy does = Tony! Ya never know, do ya?

  8. What do you have against cigarettes, troy?

    1. troy’s British? Learn something new everyday.

  9. Why not just go ahead and make it illegal to be a white, straight male? Stop nibbling around the edges, cuntrags.

    1. If you’re attacked because you’re white or straight or male you are included.

      1. So a black guy mugs me, and calls me a white boy when doing it, is committing a hate crime?

      2. Fuck you, piece of shit troll fuckbag. Even a useless driveler like you could figure out–assuming you could stop being a worthless fucking troll for two goddamn seconds–that it’s impossible to prove that you weren’t being racist/heterosexist/sexist during an attack on a protected class.

        But even a bad faith crapweasel like you knows this, which is why your po-faced objections fall on deaf fucking ears around people with working fucking brains.

        The simple truth–which you deny to your rhetorical advantage–is: If all classes are protected, then there are no protected classes.

        Go drink glow sticks until you die, chickenraper.

        1. Man, I need to learn how to swear.

        2. I weep at the awesomeness of this post.

    2. Hopefully once the generations that were alive during the civil rights movement have expired, we can all move on with our lives without carrying around any more of this racism guilt that seems to be driving so much of this hate crime stuff.

  10. C’mon, gang, this is a libertarian website. We should be looking for market opportunities.

    I’ll be launching a line of “You can’t hit me, I’m gay” t-shirts.

    1. i want ten, in a rainbow assortment of colors. and a magnetic car ribbon would be pretty awesome too.

  11. “Protected Class Citizen”

    1. And, of course, for the rest of us: “Second Class Citizen: Attack At Will.”

  12. “Protected Class Citizen”

  13. I fucking hate you, Squirrel.

    1. He obviously hates you back. Look and see who double posts. It is evidence of the mighty Squirrel’s iniquity towards them.

  14. I fucking hate you, Squirrel.

    Well, if anything happens to the Server Squirrel, we know whose door is gonna get kicked down first.

    Wait, is “weakly godlike internet rodent” a protected class?

    1. Yes. But it won’t stop me from crucifying him on the Tree of Woe.

  15. Now that I have stooped to replying to the cloaca maxima that is Shitbrains’ trollcuntery, I’m going to go boil my mind in bleach to get the piss and rotted blood reek of it’s stupidity off of me.

    1. But I thought that was the entire purpose, to get the stink all over you, to possibly feed your meme? I can see where a few seconds reading Tony would make a person want to commit, or write about, unspeakable acts of violence. Not sure where the sexual part fits in but…..

  16. Hopefully, this will be challenged in the courts immediately.

    If the ACLU had any intellectual integrity, they’d be leading the charge.

    But don’t count on it.

  17. Texas’ own ‘true conservatives’, Cornyn and Hutchison voting AYE…

    I give up.

    1. They voted AYE because they didn’t want to be accused of denying our troops what they needed to wage the foreign wars. The Shepard/Byrd Act was not a separately passed and signed Act, but an AMENDMENT to the “must pass” National Defense Authorization Act. Hmmm … someone should make a list of all the arbitrary legislation that was passed under the umbrella of “must pass” defense bills… That our Congress can do this type of thing, and that special interests exploit the opportunity to the hilt, is one of the things that is currently very rotten in our system.

  18. Many people who support these laws do so because they believe that there is bias against the minorities in the Judicial system and that this bias leads to lighter sentencing when the victim of the crime is one of these minorities.

    Reason has posted many stories here about crooked judges and prosecutors so it isn’t unlikely that such bias exists. I don’t think that new Federal law is any solution either, but what is?

    1. Picking better judges. Court cases are public partly so ordinary citizens can see the cases and make sure they are fair. This helps us keep the sytem honest one judge at a time.

    2. Arming more of the potential victims so that they can solve their own problems. When Cledus the KKK Member tries to mug any armed black guy, his motivation rapidly becomes a moot point in court when he becomes Cledus the Sidewalk Grease Stain.

  19. The solution to the poor performance of a monopololy is to open up the industry to competition.

  20. Did I miss anyone complaining about how this bill was passed — as an AMENDMENT to the “must pass” national Defense Authorization Act?

    I can have a lot of sympathy for the supporters of this bill, even though I think that the concept of “hate crimes” is bogus. But all of that good will evaporates when I learn that the proponents are so desperate to get something, anything passed that they will happily bend our system to the point of breaking to get their way. What the hell is a hate crimes amendment doing in a Defense Authorization bill?

    1. ‘Cause it’s a stupid, ill-considered law.

  21. This legislation is necessary and long overdue. Obviously most of you have never been called a “fag” as you simply walk down the street, or been threatened or followed. Clearly you all don’t understand that being gay in today’s world is still dangerous. Stray too far outside major cities and you will not be safe. If you think these laws are not necessary today, its only because you’ve never been a target. You’d feel very differently should this ever happen to you.

  22. I thought Niggers were stupid but president Blackass (AKA Barak Obama) just raised the bar of stupidity. If he died today it would save me more pure oxygen in my opinion.

  23. not unlike the poll intimination during the obama election and eric the new race hustler didnt prosicute.i wonder if the same would hold if the people at the polling stations with weapons happened to be white?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.