Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has added a controversial hate crimes measure as an amendment onto a critical defense appropriations bill. Not surprisingly, this has caused an angry flare-up from the Republican side of the aisle.
Senator Reid's effort is misguided. Hate crime measures are bad policy in general. Criminal law is supposed to punish actions alone, but hate crimes laws attempt to punish motives as well as actions. This is, for all practical purposes, unenforceable. It is also unconstitutional, as it violates protections against double jeopardy and the provisions of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law. A case could also be made that it violates the First Amendment, which has established that no person can be punished merely for holding beliefs, no matter how distasteful and repugnant those beliefs may be.
To test the logic behind hate crimes legislation, consider the following scenario. A racist bigot walks into a crowded pub, where he shoots and kills two men, one of whom is black and one of whom is white. If the logic behind hate crimes legislation is accepted, the murder of the black man is a more severe crime than the murder of the white man. Since we accept that all citizens are equal before the law, this is obviously absurd.
In the case of crimes committed by racist terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, hate crimes legislation plays right into their hands. Rather than treating them like the loathsome criminals they are, hate crimes legislation raises them up in the eyes of their followers and turns them into martyrs for their cause. Being put on trial for a hate crime would also give such a terrorist a platform from which to espouse their views.
Senator Reid's proposal is also a matter of a concern for an entirely different reason. He has added the hate crimes measure as an amendment onto a defense appropriations bills, but what does hate crimes legislation have to do with defense appropriations? The congressional habit of attaching controversial bills onto unrelated legislation, to better increase their chances of passage, is something that must be stopped.
For all these reasons, let us hope that this measure is defeated.