Senate votes to make lynching a federal crime

The Senate cleared legislation on Wednesday to make lynching a federal crime. 

The bill, introduced by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottHow much damage? The true cost of the Senate's coronavirus relief bill Senate unanimously passes T coronavirus stimulus package Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill MORE (R-S.C.), makes lynching punishable as a hate crime. 

"This is a historic piece of legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in America's history. Lynching is part of the dark and despicable aspect of our country's history that followed slavery and many other outrages in our country," Harris said from the floor on Wednesday. 

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In addition to Harris, Booker and Scott, 35 other senators formally co-sponsored the bill, which was introduced in July and cleared the Judiciary Committee unanimously in October. It passed the full Senate by voice vote.

Congress has tried but failed to pass anti-lynching legislation roughly 200 times since 1918, according to Harris's office. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing to lynching victims. 

But, addressing the 2005 vote, the Senate legislation says that while an apology "moves the United States toward reconciliation and may become central to a new understanding, on which improved racial relations can be forged," legislation criminalizing lynching is still "wholly necessary and appropriate."

Booker added on Wednesday that the Senate's passage of the bill is "a very long time coming." 

"For over a century members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is, a bias, motivated act of terror. ... We do know the passage of this bill, even though it cannot reverse irrevocable harm that lynching was used as a terror of suppression, the passage of this bill is a recognition of that dark past," Booker said.