NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 4, 2007

Congress is poised to enact hate-crimes legislation.  The basic idea is to punish criminal acts that are motivated by some form of bias, such as racial hatred.  The proposal is popular, but ill-advised.  Thus, President Bush needs to get his veto pen ready, says Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice.

The proposed bill is called the "Hate Crimes Prevention Act," and proponents believe that such laws will increase tolerance in our society and reduce intergroup conflict.  But hate-crime laws may well have the opposite effect:

  • The men and women who will administer hate-crime laws -- police and prosecutors -- will likely encounter a never-ending series of complaints with respect to their official decisions.
  • When a U.S. attorney declines to prosecute a certain offense as a hate crime, some will complain that he is favoring the groups to which the accused belongs.
  • And when a U.S. attorney does prosecute an offense as a hate crime, some will complain that the decision was based upon politics and that the government is favoring the groups to which the victim belongs; this has already happened in some of the jurisdictions that have enacted hate-crime laws at the local level.

Hate-crimes legislation will also take our laws too close to the notion of thought crimes, warns Lynch.  It is true that the hate-crime laws that exist presently cover acts, not just thoughts.  But once hate crime laws are on the books, the law-enforcement apparatus of the state will be delving into the accused's life and thoughts in order to show that he or she was motivated by bigotry.  The point here is that such chilling examples of state intrusion are avoidable because hate crime laws are unnecessary in the first place.

Source: Timothy Lynch, "Hate This," Cato Institute/National Review, May 3, 2007.

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