Senate Should Vote Down Hate Crime Amendments from Sen. Sessions
July 18, 2009
While the Matthew Shepard Act amendment was successfully adopted on Thursday, three other amendments related to hate crimes will be debated on Monday. HRC staff has now reviewed these three last minute amendments from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and believes that they are unnecessary, unhelpful and should not be adopted. So what are the three amendments? The first Sessions Amendment would allow the death penalty to be applied in hate crimes cases under some circumstances. This Amendment is unnecessary and is a poison pill designed to kill the bill. The Amendment is being offered by and supported by Senators who oppose the Matthew Shepard Act. It’s ironic that the very Senators who have falsely argued that this bill would put clergy in jail because of their beliefs think that those same clergy should be subject to the death penalty. The second Sessions Amendment would place an additional burden on the Justice Department to revise its long established guidelines for hate crimes cases. This Amendment is unnecessary. The Department already contains well-established, clear and precise guidelines to govern cases involving bias-motivated violence that work well. Finally, the third Sessions Amendment would provide additional penalties for crimes involving servicemembers or their families. This Amendment is unnecessary. Existing statutes already provide special penalties on attacks against members of the Armed Services and veterans. In addition, the vague language of the Amendment is problematic. The Amendment provides for additional penalties for injuring the property of a serviceman or immediate family member. The scope of “family member” or what constitutes an “injury” to their property is unclear. We hope that Senators vote down these amendments on Monday. Regardless of how the Senate disposes of these amendments, the Matthew Shepard Act will next head to a conference committee and then final votes in the House and Senate, likely in September. President Obama stands ready to sign it.