senate surprises

SHOCK: Death Penalty Officially on the Table for Hate Crimes

Sotomayor Senate

Unanimous. That’s how the Senate voted on the Defense Department’s budget re-authorization bill, to which hate crimes legislation was attached. And yes, the three amendments added by a hate crimes opponent were also included.

In a rush to beat the clock, the Senate invoked a cloture on the budget bill, which means Sen. Jeff Session’s three controversial amendments to the hate crimes bill stand, courtesy a 92-0 vote. Among Sessions’ new rules: adding the death penalty to the possible sentences of anyone convicted of a hate crime.

Sessions, of course, didn’t want sexual orientation and gender identity added to federally protected classes. (This guy voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, of course.) But Senate Democratic leaders approved of his amendments as a compromise of sorts to get the legislation through without argument. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont.), who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday he supported modified versions of Sessions’ amendments.

Now that both the Senate and House have okay’d Defense Department budget bills, the differences in them will be ironed out by a special committee before final votes are taken in both houses in September. This provides one last opportunity to change the Senate’s version of hate crimes legislation before it goes to Obama’s desk, meaning Sessions’ amendments — which Gay Inc. is calling overreaching and outrageous — could still be yanked at the last minute. (The House passed a standalone hate crimes bill.)

Obama, of course, has promised to veto any budget bill that re-ups the F-22 fighter jet program, which he wants nixed — providing an amusing intersection of military-assisted protections for gay civilians. The Senate has, mostly, removed that stipulation.

But hey, we’ll leave it to you: While Sessions is clearly an opponent to equality, are you fine with federal legislation that puts state-sponsored execution on the table for someone who murders another in an anti-gay crime?

(NB: From the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese: “I have great news to share: the Senate has passed the Matthew Shepard Act! The bill will soon be on its way to President Obama’s desk, where he’ll get a chance to make good on his promise to sign it.” No mention in Joe’s email about Sessions’ death penalty amendment.)

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