Congresscritters Are Busy Critters, With All The Bill Writing And Amending And Such

The Hate Crimes bill:

Tim Lynch at Cato:

Last night, the House of Representatives approved a defense spending measure that included a totally unrelated bill that would ban so-called “hate crimes.”

I’ve testified twice against federal hate crimes proposals.  Here’s the case against the law (in brief):

First, the federal hate crime law is unconstitutional because it is beyond the powers of Congress.

Second, the law will not prevent violent crime.  Anyone already inclined to kill or beat up another human being is not going to reverse course because Congress passes a new law against violence motivated by bias.

Third, the law does take the state too close to the realm of thought crimes.  In order for a prosecutor to prove the “hate” aspect, detectives have to dig into a person’s life, thoughts, writings, conversations, etc., to gather the “evidence.”  There’s no good reason to go there because — let’s remember — violent acts are already against the law!


“Democrats and advocates hailed the 281-to-146 vote, which put the measure on the brink of becoming law, as the culmination of a long push to curb violent expressions of bias like the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.’ Left unchecked, crimes of this kind threaten to ruin the very fabric of America,’ said Representative Susan Davis, Democrat of California. The hate-crimes measure was approved as part of a broad $681 billion Pentagon policy measure, a strategy that infuriated House Republicans who accused Democrats of employing a form of legislative blackmail. Most Democrats voted for the measure, as did more than 40 Republicans.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure early next week, after which it will head to Obama for his signature.

Said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in a statement: “This measure is long overdue and I am pleased that Congress has voted to do what’s right. Martin Luther King, Jr. often said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’  We see that beautifully illustrated here today.”

Jacob Sullum at Reason:

Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming, and James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas, were both murdered in 1998. In both cases, their killers seem to have been motivated by bigotry. What else do they have in common? Their murderers were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison or death, all without the benefit of hate crime laws, state or federal. Hence it is very strange to slap their names on a piece of legislation that is based on the premise that such crimes might go unpunished without a federal law aimed at violent criminals motivated by bigotry. “The hate crimes act,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman  Carl Levin (D-Mich.), “will hopefully deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of the color of their skin or their religion, their disability, their gender or their sexual orientation, regardless of where the crime takes place.”

Deter people from being targeted? Talk about blaming the victim. What Levin presumably meant is no less ridiculous. Is it at all plausible that the men who murdered Matthew Shepard or James Byrd would have been deterred by the prospect of federal, as opposed to state, prosecution? How many lives can you serve in prison? How many times can you be executed?

Amanda Terkel at Think Progress:

Yesterday, the House voted “to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation” by passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The right put its homophobia on full display in an attempt to kill the legislation, with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) saying that it would lead to Nazism, and the legalization of necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality.

Today in an interview with Radio America/WorldNetDaily, Rep. Steve King (R-IA)
– who has said that hate crimes legislation creates “sacred cows” and puts the “victimizer’s focus on someone else” — tried to argue that such a bill is unnecessary. His argument? Matthew Shepard himself wasn’t actually murdered because he was gay:

KING: I didn’t make the point, but others did, that James Byrd was sentenced to death in Texas, and I don’t know if that sentence has been carried out yet. But he received highest penalty available under the law for the dragging death of James Byrd. And the Matthew Shepard case, there’s been a fair amount of information that came out that that really wasn’t the motivation of the people who killed him, but they did receive the maximum penalty under the law.

And on to the Franken amendment:

Radley Balko:

Thirty GOP Senators vote against a bill that would give court access to employees of military contractors who are raped while overseas. As I understand it, Franken’s bill applies only to civil suits. The real problem is the legal netherworld that exists when contractors work overseas where they’re bound neither by U.S. law nor local law. Or at least that was the Bush Justice Department’s excuse for not prosecuting these rapes. Anyone know if Congress has changed that to make contractors working for the U.S. government subject to U.S. law?

Mark Kleiman:

So let me just throw this out as a challenge:  can anyone name a good argument for voting against the Franken provision?  Here’s a statement of the facts in the gang-rape case that KBR was able to duck responsibility for.   And here’s a story with some quotes from Sessions.

The good news is that none of the Republican women voted with Sessions.  The bad news is that three-quarters of the Republicans in the Senate did.

And someone in the White House needs to have a serious talk with the Secretary of Defense to remind him that there was an election last fall.   I can understand the bureaucratic politics that led DoD to oppose the bill – after all, the people who gave all those contracts to Dick Cheney’s old company are mostly still in place – but this one needed some adult supervision, and Gates failed to provide it.

Bryan McAffee at Right Pundits:

Personally I have no problem with the Franken Amendment, besides the fact that it singles out Halliburton, which Democrats love to use as their favorite boogey man next to Karl Rove. Actually, I don’t get why so many Republicans voted against it. Do we really want to say that victims of sexual assault can’t get access to courts to sue their employer. I’m all in favor of arbitration and mediation, but those types of alternate dispute resolution were not really set up to handle victims of rape or sexual assault, they are more for contractual issues, pay issues, etc. We should have judges and juries of our peers evaluating these kinds of important cases. The biggest strike against arbitration is that they are nearly impossible to appeal, so once the case is decided, there is nothing you can do after that point.

Sen. Sessions, who did vote against the bill, argued that this gives Congress too much power to alter employment contracts of private companies and that it went against the recommendation of the Defense Department, but eh, I don’t think those concerns outweigh the concerns that rape victims should have more legal protections.

So, as much as I hate to say it, good on you Sen. Franken. I think your incessant hounding of Halliburton is childish, but over all, the Franken Amendment probably accomplishes something worthwhile.

Steve Benen:

Let’s not overlook the larger context here. Democrats are expected to try to find “bipartisan” support on practically everything. Some GOP lawmakers think health care reform isn’t “legitimate” if it doesn’t have 80 votes.

And yet, when the Senate considered a measure yesterday to give rape victims who work for U.S.-subsidized defense contractors a day in court, 30 out of 40 Republican senators said, “No.”

The notion that the majority should be able to reach constructive, worthwhile compromises with this minority is clearly ridiculous.

UPDATE: On the end (it looks) of the Franken amendment:

Jonathan Zasloff

John Cole

UPDATE: Franken amendment lives:


Steve Benen

UPDATE #3: Dahlia Lithwick in Slate

Will at The League

UPDATE #4: Erin Geiger Smith at Law Review at Business Insider

1 Comment

Filed under Crime, Legislation Pending, LGBT, Military Issues, Race

One response to “Congresscritters Are Busy Critters, With All The Bill Writing And Amending And Such

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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