Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal crime

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

The bill, introduced by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSan Francisco police chief apologizes for raid on journalist's home Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk MORE (D-Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE (D-N.J.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottT.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Spicer defends Trump's White House correspondents dinner boycott MORE (R-S.C.), makes lynching punishable as a hate crime.

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The bill previously passed the Senate in December, but it did not clear the then-GOP controlled House before the end of the 115th Congress. It passed on Thursday by a voice vote.

Booker said that "lynching is not a relic of the past," pointing to the attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago.

"Justice for the victims of lynching has been too long denied, and as we look forward we must collectively in this body make a strong, unequivocal statement," he added. 

Harris, speaking from the Senate floor, added that lynching is a part of the country's "uncomfortable history" that had never been "truly acknowledged" or "reconciled" with. 

"We must confront hate in our country. ... We are now making clear there will be serious, swift and severe consequences," said Harris, who along with Booker is running for the party's 2020 nomination for president. 

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."

The measure will now go to the House.