Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Legislators Pose as Opponents of Hate

Boston Globe columnist, and COMMENTARY contributor Jeff Jacoby hit one out of the park on Sunday when he took on the drive to pass federal hate crimes legislation.

This is a cause that has been embraced by a great many well-meaning groups, including most of the organized Jewish community. But it is, as Jeff so ably points out, absolutely pointless.

If enacted, the law will almost certainly be challenged in court. The Constitution does not grant the federal government any general police power — prosecuting crime is primarily a state and local responsibility — and it is far from clear that the Supreme Court would go along with a congressional attempt to federalize such a broad swath of criminal law.

Which is just as well, since the new law will not serve any legitimate criminal-justice end. Every crime that would be covered by the bill is already a felony under state law. Each one can already be prosecuted and punished. Its name notwithstanding, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will not prevent any hate crimes. Nor is there anything it could have added to the prosecution of Shepard’s killers, both of whom were convicted of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

So why pass such legislation? Like a great many other activities politicians engage in, it has to do with them pretending they are fighting against things people dislike without actually having to do anything meaningful. In other words, it is nothing more than a pose. As such, we might just all shrug and let it go as a harmless piece of nonsense. But there is a cost.

Hate-crime laws serve a symbolic function, not a practical one: They proclaim that crimes fueled by certain types of bias are especially repugnant. But that is the same as proclaiming that crimes fueled by other types of bias, or by motives having nothing to do with bias, are not quite as awful. Is that a message any decent society should wish to promote?

Suppose Matthew Shepard’s murderers had killed him for his wallet, or to prove their toughness to a gang, or out of sheer sadistic bloodlust. Would his death have been any less horrific? Would his family have shed fewer tears? Is it somehow better when a thrill-seeker burns a church than when a bigot does so? If James Byrd had been lynched by three black men, would his slaughter not have been as monstrous?

The obvious answer should be no, which is what our answer to those who advocate for this well-meaning piece of foolishness should also be.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.