Does the Matthew Shepard Act ‘Accomplish Absolutely Nothing’?


Yes, the Matthew Shepard Act adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. And it enables the feds to fund local law enforcement’s investigations into hate crimes. For supporters of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the legislation is one of equal rights and protection. For opponents, it’s a law that violates the First Amendment. But what about folks who don’t fall into either area, and simply believe the law actually does nothing?

“For the most horrific hate crimes, the change would accomplish absolutely nothing,” writes Steve Chapman. How come?

The old rationale for federal hate crimes legislation was that bigoted local cops and prosecutors were ignoring vicious assaults on minorities. But supporters have to admit things have changed. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, notes that “85 percent of law enforcement officials surveyed recognize bias motivated violence to be more serious than similar crimes not motivated by bias.”

The existing law is mostly a curiosity, since it applies only to hate crimes in which the attacker singles out a victim on the basis of race, religion or national origin and is trying to interfere with the victim’s participation in one of six federally protected activities — going to a public school, applying for a job, serving as a grand juror and so on. Even in the most vicious cases, notes Jonathan Godfrey, a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, an attacker can’t be convicted “unless he is proved to have possessed both these intents.”

Sen. Kennedy wants to eliminate these restrictions because they make it hard for the feds to go after hate crimes. But the change might not go down well at the Supreme Court. In 1995, it overturned the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990 for exceeding Congress’ authority over crime, which the court said is properly a responsibility of state and local governments.

So a federal hate crimes law may go from being a ban on extremely rare offenses to being unconstitutional. Some achievement.

Legit logic, or as ridiculous as calling the bill the Pedophile Protection Act?