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 HarrisHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations MORE (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Fox personalities blast Trump's remarks 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.