The Human Rights Campaign, the nation�s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, today praised President-Elect Barack Obama�s selection of Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States. The former deputy attorney general in the Clinton Administration proved himself to be a strong advocate for fairness and basic rights and an unswerving proponent of fully-inclusive federal hate crimes legislation.
�In Eric Holder, President-Elect Obama has chosen an attorney general who has demonstrated his dedication to civil rights, protecting communities from hate violence, and the fair and equal application of our laws,� said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. �Eric Holder has recognized the deleterious effect that hate and bias crimes have not just on victims, but on entire communities. President-Elect Obama�s appointment continues to prove his commitment to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.�
Holder�s appointment is the latest in a series of moves by President-elect Obama that illustrate his commitment to fairness and LGBT equality. Obama�s Transition Project instituted a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy for those applying for positions within the new administration. In addition, a number of openly gay people have been selected to contribute their considerable expertise to the transition. Two weeks ago, the Obama Transition Project published an extensive agenda for the next four years, including a section on key policies for LGBT people and families, on its website. The Obama-Biden plan reiterates strong support for inclusive hate-crimes and employment discrimination protections, repeal of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy, and a stronger and more strategic response to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic.
After graduating from Columbia Law School, Mr. Holder joined the Department of Justice�s Attorney General's Honors Program. In 1988 he was nominated for and confirmed as Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In 1993 President Clinton nominated Mr. Holder for United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and he was confirmed later that year. In this role he worked vigorously to reduce crime and increase neighborhood safety. Notably, he emphasized hate crimes enforcement to ensure that bias-motivated crimes would receive adequate resources, attention, and punishment. Hate crimes continued to be a priority for Mr. Holder after his 1997 appointment by President Clinton to Deputy Attorney General. His dedication to the issue of addressing hate-based violence is exemplified in his 1999 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Conyers, members of the committee. I thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the important and troubling issues of hate crimes.
The administration very much appreciates your decision to hold this hearing. President Clinton and the attorney general have remained deeply committed to preventing and prosecuting hate crimes since the 1997 White House conference on hate crimes and we continue to dedicate significant time and resources to this very important issue.
The battle against hate crimes has always been bipartisan, and this committee has always been at the forefront of that battle.
In 1990 and 1994, the committee strongly supported the enactment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act. In 1996, the committee responded in time of great national need by quickly the Church Arson Prevention Act.
And I hope that you will respond once again to the call for a stronger federal stand against hate crimes, and that you will join law enforcement officials and community leaders across the country in support of H.R. 1082, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999.
Now unfortunately, recent events have only -- have only reinforced the need for federal hate crimes legislation. We were all horrified at the brutal murders of Billy Jack Gaither in Alabama, Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd in Jasper, Texas.
Just in the weeks since I testified on these issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, a young man linked with a white supremacy organization shot several people in Illinois and Indiana, including a group of Jewish men walking home from sabbath services in Chicago. Two others died from their injuries: Won-Joon Yoon, a student at Indiana University from South Korea, and Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American male who was only walking with his daughters near his home in Skokie, Illinois.
In California, three synagogues in Sacramento erupted in flames on the same morning, and Winfield Scott Mowder and Gary Matson, a gay couple, were brutally murdered in the Redding home.
These crimes, and others around the country, are not just a law enforcement problem. They are a problem for our schools, our religious institutions, our civic organizations and also for our national leaders.
When we pool our expertise, experiences and resources together, we can help build communities that are safer, stronger and more tolerant.
First, we must gain a better understanding of the problem. In 1997, the last year for which we have complete statistics, 11,200 law enforcement agencies participated in the data-collection program and reported just over 8,000 hate crime incidents. Eight-thousand hate crime incidents are about one hate crime incident per hour.
But we know that even this disturbing number significantly underestimates the true level of hate crimes. Many victims do not report these crimes, and police departments do not always recognize, appropriately categorize or adequately report hate crimes.
Second, we must learn to teach tolerance in our communities so that we can prevent hate crimes by addressing bias before it manifests itself in violent criminal activity. We must foster understanding and should instill in our children the respect for each other's differences and the ability to resolve conflicts without violence.
The Department of Education, with the national association of attorneys general, recently published a guide to confronting and stopping hate and bias in our schools. And I'm also pleased that the department is assisting a new partnership in its efforts to develop a program for middle school students on tolerance and diversity.
Third, we must work together to effectively prevent and prosecute hate crimes.
Now the centerpiece of the administration's hate crimes initiative is the formation of local working groups in the United States attorneys districts around the country. These task forces are hard at work bringing together the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Community Relations Service, local law enforcement, community leaders and educators to assess the problem in their area and to coordinate our response to hate crimes.
These cooperative efforts are reinforced by the July 1998 memorandum of understanding between the national district attorney's association and the Department of Justice. Where the federal government does have jurisdiction, the MOU calls for early communication among local, state and federal prosecutors to devise investigative strategies.
Finally, we should never forget that law enforcement has an indispensable role to play in eradicating hate crimes. We must ensure that potential hate crimes are investigated thoroughly, prosecuted swiftly and punished soundly. In order to do this effectively, we must address the gaps that exist in the current federal law.
The principal Federal Hate Crimes Statute, 18 USC Section 245, prohibits certain hate crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. This law has two serious deficiencies.
First, even in the most blatant cases of racial, ethnic or religious violence, no federal jurisdiction exists unless the violence was committed because the victim engaged in one of six federally protected activities. This unnecessary, extra intent requirement has led to acquittals in several cases. It has also limited our ability to work with state and local officials to investigate and prosecute many incidents of brutal, hate-motivated violence.
Any federal legislative response to hate crimes must close this gap.
H.R. 1082 would amend Section 245 so that in cases involving racial, religious or ethnic violence, the federal government would have the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute cases involving the intentional infliction of bodily injury without regard for the victim's participation in one of the six enumerated federally protected activities.
And as I said, this is an essential fix. In my written testimony, I highlight several cases that we have lost because of the federal -- federally protected activity burden.
We can offer to these localities, but in most circumstances, only if we have jurisdiction in the first instance. The level of collaboration achieved between federal and local officials in Jasper, with regard to the James Byrd case, was possible only because we had a colorable -- an (inaudible) colorable claim of federal jurisdiction in that matter. The state and federal partnership in this case led to the prompt inditement of three men on state capital charges.
The second jurisdictional limitation on Section 245 is that it provides no coverage whatsoever for violent hate crimes committed because of bias based on the victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability, and these crimes pose a serious problem for our nation.
A meaningful federal response to hate crimes must provide protection for these groups and H.R. 282 would do just that. The bill would provide -- prohibit the intentional infliction of bodily injury based on the victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability whenever the incident involved or affected interstate commerce.
And we know that a significant number of hate crimes based on the sexual orientation of the victim are committed every year in this country. And despite this fact, 18 U.S.C. 245 does not provide coverage for these victims unless there in independent basis for federal jurisdiction.
We also know that a significant number of women are exposed to brutality and even death because of their gender. The Congress, with the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, has recognized that some violent assaults committed against women are bias crimes rather than mere random attacks.
And we also know that because of their concern about the problem of disability related hate crimes, Congress amended the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1994 to require the FBI to collect information about such hate-based incidents from state and local law enforcement agencies.
Similarly, the federal sentencing guidelines include an upward adjustment for crimes where the victim was selected because of his or her sexual orientation, gender or disability.
H.R. 1082 is consistent with recent court decision on Congress' legislative power under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment and is mindful of commerce clause limitations.
Congress has the constitutional authority to regulate violent acts motivated by racial or ethnic bias. The bill is also mindful of the traditional role that states have played in prosecuting crime.
Indeed, state and local officials investigate and prosecute the vast majority of the hate crimes that occur in their communities and would continue to do so if this bill was enacted.
But we need to make sure that federal jurisdiction covers everything that it should, so that in those rare instances where states cannot or will not take action, the federal government can step in to assure that justice is done.
It is by working in collaboration that state and federal law enforcement officials stand the best chance of bringing the perpetrators of hate crimes swiftly to justice.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act will bring together state, local and federal teams to investigate and prosecute incidents of hate crime wherever they occur.
The enactment of H.R. 1082 is a reasonable measure and a necessary response to the wave of hate-based incidents taking place around our country because of biases built on the race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability of the victim.
I look forward to answering any questions that any member of the committee might have. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Human Rights Campaign is America�s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
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