Hate Crimes: What is the Proper Federal Role?
Recorded on May 8, 2008
Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
In recent years, several bills have sought to greatly broaden
the definition of federal hate crimes. The most recent
example, H.R. 1592, which passed the House in 2007, does not
require proof of hate or malice at all. H.R. 1592 would make
it a federal crime to commit certain acts "because of" the victim's
"actual or perceived race, color … religion, national
origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability" whenever the
offense is in or "affects" interstate or foreign commerce.
Advocates of such legislation argue that the definition of a
federal hate crime needs to be expanded to provide protection to
all who suffer injury due to membership in a protected class.
Critics of such bills believe they would constitute an
unconstitutional expansion of federal power, disproportionate to
any alleged state failing to prosecute these crimes. If
constitutional, they also worry that such legislation would
significantly expand the federalization of crime to encompass
almost all muggings involving women or the elderly and almost all
sexual crimes (few sex offenders are indifferent to their victim's
gender); that this would undermine local accountability to prevent
and prosecute such crimes, but could still result in double
prosecutions in selective cases. Is legislation such as H.R.
1592 necessary to protect individuals from acts that already
violate state law? Or is it feel-good legislation that is
counterproductive to deterring and prosecuting such crimes?
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