[Excerpt] On October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, as Division E of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (P.L. 111-84; H.R. 2647). This law broadens federal jurisdiction over hate crimes by authorizing the Attorney General to provide assistance, when requested by a state, local, or tribal official, for crimes that (1) would constitute a violent crime under federal law or a felony under state or tribal law, and (2) are motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In other words, hate crimes are traditional crimes during which the offender is motivated by one or more biases considered to be particularly reprehensible and damaging to society as a whole. Prior to enactment, however, hate crimes were not separate and distinct offenses under federal law. Furthermore, federal jurisdiction over hate crime was limited to certain civil rights offenses.
Although there is a consensus that hate crime is deplorable, determining the definitive federal role in addressing hate crime has proved contentious, as reflected in the legislative history and congressional debate. Legislation to widen federal jurisdiction over hate crime was passed by the Senate in the 106th and 108th Congresses, by the House in the 109th Congress, and by both chambers in the 110th Congress. Opponents of hate crime legislation view separate federal offenses for hate crime as redundant and largely symbolic, arguing that separate hate crime offenses would be in addition to the legal prohibitions for traditional crime that already exist under either federal or state law. They also contend that in most cases the federal nexus is tenuous, and that such offenses are best handled at the state and local level. Proponents for creating a separate and distinct federal offense for hate crime maintain that there is a fundamental difference between ordinary crime and hate crime. They believe that hate crimes are often perpetrated to send a message of threat and intimidation to a wider group, and that the effects of hate crime extend beyond the particular victim and reflect more pervasive patterns of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and other characteristics.
In the 111 * Congress, the House Judiciary Committee amended and ordered reported a hate crimes bill (H.R. 1913; H.Rept. 111 -86) on April 23, 2009. The House passed H.R. 1913 on April 29, 2009. Senator Reid, for Senator Kennedy, introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909) on April 28, 2009. Senator Leahy successfully amended the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1390) with language that is similar to S. 909 on July 16, 2009. The Senate passed S. 1390, amended, on July 23, 2009. The hate crime provisions were included in the conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2647; H.Rept. 111-288). The House passed the conference report on H.R. 2647 on October 7, 2009; the Senate passed it on October 22, 2009.
In addition, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee has introduced three hate crime-related bills (H.R. 70, H.R. 256, and H.R. 262), and Representative Maloney has introduced a hate crime statistics act (H.R. 823). At issue for Congress is whether the prevalence and harmfulness of hate crimes warrant greater federal intervention to ensure that such crimes are systematically addressed at all levels of government. Another related issue is the completeness and comprehensiveness of national hate crime data. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson introduced (H.R. 3419), which would amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act to require data collection on crimes committed against homeless persons. Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced an identical bill (S. 1765). On several occasions, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to mark up this bill during the 111th Congress, but consideration of this bill was postponed.