Heads Up: Kennedy Hate Crimes Bill

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) introduced S 966, the Hate Crimes Bill, earlier this Congress and held a news conference this summer at which he stated that he and the bill’s cosponsors are committed to seeing the bill on the floor of the Senate before the year’s end.

Given the Bush White House’s proclivity to acquiesce to the demands of the senior senator from Massachusetts (such as the Education Bill and the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill), it would be good for us to know some of what Kennedy is pushing.

Bill Provisions:

  • Defines “hate crime” as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.”
  • Finds that “hate crimes” affect interstate commerce (this is the constitutional justification and authority supporters of the legislation invoke to push a bill like this) by “impeding the movement of members of targeted groups and forcing such members to move across State lines to escape the incidence or risk of such violence; and by preventing members of targeted groups from purchasing goods and services, obtaining or sustaining employment, or participating in other commercial activity.”
  • Allows federal prosecutors to take jurisdiction from State law enforcement entities over “hate crimes” if the official believes that (1) “the State does not have jurisdiction or does not intend to exercise jurisdiction” OR (2) “the State has requested that the Federal Government take jurisdiction” OR (3) “the State does not object to the Federal Government assuming jurisdiction” OR (4) “the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence” (emphasis added).
  • Creates two different types of offenses: a blanket federal crime if the offense is committed because of “actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin” and a provisional federal crime if the offense is committed because of “actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability” and occurs in way that affects interstate or foreign commerce. (The bill provides a number of ways commerce could be affected.)
  • Republican Cosponsors:
    Sen Lincoln Chafee (R.I.)

    Sen Norm Coleman (Minn.)

    Sen Susan Collins (Maine)

    Sen John Ensign (Nev.)

    Sen Gordon Smith (Ore.)

    Sen Olympia Snowe (Maine)

    Sen Arlen Specter (Pa.)



  • Text of S 966, the Hate Crimes Bill
  • CRS Summary of S 966