Letter to the Editor: Equal rights? Not quite…

The October 28 editorial “A civil rights advance,” applauding President Obama’s imminent signing of “hate crimes” legislation, ignored the legislation’s plain violation of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws.” As a result of this law, those convicted of serious bodily harm against protected classes of Americans — based on their gender or transgender identity, sexual orientation, disability, race, color, religion or national origin — could get longer prison sentences than persons convicted of bodily harm against victims outside protected classes. Perpetrators of a violent act not designated a “hate crime” — for example, against a homeless person on the street, or a police officer, or a former employer — could receive lesser prison terms.

Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment states: “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This “hate crimes” statute gives federal prosecutors the authority to try a defendant a second time for an alleged hate crime after prosecution in a state court.

Nat Hentoff writes on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.