Unsure about prospects on passing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a stand-alone bill, proponents intend to attach it as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill. As I have said previously, this bill is an affront to federalism and counterproductive hater-aid.
Federal Criminal Law Power Grab
This legislation awards grants to jurisdictions for the purpose of combating hate crimes. It also creates a substantive federal crime of violent acts motivated by the "actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person."
This is a federalization of a huge number of intrastate crimes. It is hard to imagine a rape case where the sex of the victim is not an issue. The same goes for robbery - why grab a wallet from someone who can fight back on equal terms when you can pick a victim who is smaller and weaker than you are?
This would be different if this were a tweak to sentencing factors.
If this were a sentence enhancement on crimes motivated by racial animus - a practice sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Mitchell - then it would be less objectionable if there were independent federal jurisdiction.
Thing is, the federal government has already done this, with the exception of gender identity, with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines (scroll to page 334 at the link):
If the finder of fact at trial or, in the case of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court at sentencing determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property as the object of the offense of conviction because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person, increase by 3 levels.
The contrast between a sentence enhancement and a substantive crime gives us an honest assessment of what Congress is doing - federalizing intrastate acts of violence.
If Congress were to pass a law prohibiting the use of a firearm or any object that has passed in interstate commerce to commit a violent crime, it would clearly be an unconstitutional abuse of the Commerce Clause.
Minus the hate crime window dressing, that is exactly what this law purports to do.
What this really amounts to is a power grab - giving the federal government power to try or re-try violent crimes that are purely intrastate. Just as the Supreme Court invalidated the Gun Free School Zones Act in United States v. Lopez because it asserted a general federal police power, this law should be resisted as a wholesale usurpation of the states' police powers.
The act also essentially overrules United States v. Morrison, where the Court overruled a federal civil remedy for intrastate gender-motivated violence. Forget a civil remedy; while we're re-writing the constitution through the Commerce Clause let's get a criminal penalty on the books.
Trials as Inquisitions
The hate crime bill will also turn trials into inquisitions. The focus of prosecution could be on whether you ever had a disagreement with someone of another "actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability." Worse yet, it can turn to whether you have any close friends in one of these categories, as demonstrated in the Ohio case State v. Wyant. The defendant denied that he was a racist, which led to the following exchange in cross-examination on the nature of the defendant's relationship with his black neighbor:
Q. And you lived next door . . . for nine years and you don't even know her first name?
Q. Never had dinner with her?
Q. Never gone out and had a beer with her?
A. No. . . .
Q. You don't associate with her, do you?
A. I talk with her when I can, whenever I see her out.
Q. All these black people that you have described that are your friends, I want you to give me one person, just one who was really a good friend of yours.
David Neiwert says that this won't happen because of a constitutional backstop in the legislation. Unfortunately, the House version of the bill explicitly endorses impeaching a defendant in exactly this manner:
In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing impeachment of a witness.
Worse yet, the Senate version of the hate crime bill, the one which will likely become law after conference committee, does not contain this provision. Instead, it explicitly says:
Courts may consider relevant evidence of speech, beliefs, or expressive conduct to the extent that such evidence is offered to prove an element of a charged offense or is otherwise admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Nothing in this Act is intended to affect the existing rules of evidence.
Anyone want to bet that an aggressive prosecutor could find that not having a close enough relationship with your neighbor counts as "expressive conduct" for the purposes of prosecution?
Future Push for More Federal Authority Over Intrastate Crimes
The hate crime bill also pushes a snowball down the mountain toward wholesale federalization of intrastate crime. In a few years this snowball will be an avalanche. By making any gender-motivated crime a hate crime, which will necessarily include nearly all rapes, we will define ordinary street crimes as hate crimes.
With a consistent average of 90,000 rapes a year, this expansion of hate crime definition will come back in a few years where those ignorant of the change in terms will wonder why hate crime is now rampant. "Rampant" only because we have made the relevant definition over-inclusive to the point of being meaningless.
And in a few years, we can revisit this issue with a fierce moral urgency to pass more feel-good legislation that upends state police powers in an effort to do something - anything - to confront this perceived crisis. A perception that Congress is creating in this legislation.