Hate crimes amendments pass easily

The Senate on Monday passed four amendments to the Defense Department authorization bill that limit the extension of federal hate crimes laws.

One amendment requires that hate crimes be identified and prosecuted based on “neutral and objective criteria.”

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Another boosts penalties for attacks on U.S. military service members and their families, while a third authorizes the death penalty for certain crimes that result in death.

All three amendments were backed by Republicans, most of whom voted against the extension of hate crime protections last week.

The chamber also passed one Democratic amendment, a compromise proposal by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate committee ignores Trump, House budgets in favor of 2017 funding levels Live coverage: Trump's FBI nominee questioned by senators AT&T, senators spar over customers' right to sue MORE (D-Vt.), that would limit hate crime prosecutions until a state’s attorney general has established standards for applying the death penalty.

Three of the four amendments were unanimously passed; the measure regarding attacks against U.S. military service members passed by a vote of 92-0.

None of the changes significantly affect the chamber’s action last week in passing by voice vote an amendment by Leahy that expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, gender or disabilities.

Republicans continued to grumble about that vote on Monday, with Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsIntercepts suggest Sessions discussed Trump campaign matters with Russia envoy: report Rights groups commend Trump for trying terror suspect in federal court NYT reporter, Dem senator go back-and-forth on Scaramucci coverage MORE of Alabama, a former federal prosecutor, giving a lengthy, 50-minute floor speech denouncing the idea of enhancing hate crimes prosecutions.

Sessions said hate crimes appear to be decreasing, that the amendments were improperly rushed into the Department of Defense authorization package with little scrutiny and that they would improperly make hate crimes a federal violation, removing authority from state and local prosecutors.

“We need to be careful that statutes that become permanent parts of our criminal code are supported by evidence and principle,” Sessions said. “I don’t think that our focus here is to deal with symbolic legislation that’s broad and could expand federal criminal jurisdiction beyond its historic role and where the facts do not support the need.”

But Democrats such as Sen. John KerryJohn KerrySenators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Budowsky: Dems need council of war MORE (Mass.), also a former prosecutor, said the country’s judicial system doesn’t adequately protect those citizens who may be subject to particularly vicious crimes based on their ethnicity or sexual identity.

“I don’t think the criminal code as I judge it, completely covers all kinds of crimes,” Kerry said. “It doesn’t go to the specific motive and the specific fact of a Matthew Shepard crime or others like that that emanate from various phobias and fears. It helps to serve as a deterrant and it helps to identify a certain kind of value system.”