"THOUGHT CRIMES" BILL ADVANCES

May 18, 2009

Why is the press remaining mostly silent about the so-called "hate crimes law" that passed in the House on April 29?  The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in a 249-175 vote (17 Republicans joined with 231 Democrats).  These Democrats should have been tested on their knowledge of the First Amendment, equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment), and the prohibition of double jeopardy (no American can be prosecuted twice for the same crime or offense).  If they had been, they would have known that this proposal, now headed for a Senate vote, violates all these constitutional provisions, says Nat Hentoff, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute.

  • This bill would make it a federal crime to willfully cause bodily injury (or try to) because of the victim's actual or perceived "race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability" -- as explained on the White House Web site, signaling the president's approval.
  • A defendant convicted on these grounds would be charged with a "hate crime" in addition to the original crime, and would get extra prison time.

The extra punishment applies only to these "protected classes," says Hentoff.  As Denver criminal defense lawyer Robert J Corry Jr. asked (Denver Post April 28): "Isn't every criminal act that harms another person a 'hate crime'?"  Then, regarding a Colorado "hate crime" law, one of 45 such state laws, Corry wrote: "When a Colorado gang engaged in an initiation ritual of specifically seeking out a "white woman" to rape, the Boulder prosecutor declined to pursue 'hate crime' charges."  She was not enough of one of its protected classes.

Corey adds that the state "hate crime" law -- like the newly expanded House of Representatives federal bill -- "does not apply equally" (as the 14th Amendment requires), essentially instead "criminalizing only politically incorrect thoughts directed against politically incorrect victim categories."

Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, think hard about what Corry adds, says Hentoff: "A government powerful enough to pick and choose which thoughts to prosecute is a government too powerful."

Source: Nat Hentoff, "'Thought Crimes' Bill Advances," Cato Institute, May 13, 2009.

For text:

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10188

 

Browse more articles on Government Issues