When Colorado Rep. Ken Buck introduced his “Blue Lives Matter” bill in March, it looked like a backbencher’s standard one-day wonder.
That is, it seemed designed to get the 4th District Republican’s name in his local paper even if it had no real chance of getting to the floor, let alone passed.
The tactic worked. The Greeley Tribune dutifully printed an article the next day, although it editorialized against the bill a few days later.
The bill would expand the federal hate-crime statutes to include law enforcement as a protected class. These statutes already cover race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and disabilities.
The bill still hasn’t been scheduled for hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, said a Buck spokesman, and it may not be. Congress will spend more time campaigning this fall than legislating. But 16 colleagues have signed on cosponsors, at last report, giving it at least a small chance next year if not this. The recent murders of five officers in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge have only increased the likelihood of its getting a hearing.
But Blue Lives Matter is an all too typical Republican response to bad Democratic legislation. Instead of trying to kill the original hate crime laws in Congress or the courts, they choose to expand them to cover the minorities they like, such as police officers.
“By adding law enforcement to the federal hate crime statute, we can protect those who protect us,” Buck said when introducing the bill.
Not really. Those who gun down police officers already face the maximum punishment the federal or state government can impose — if they’re captured alive — and aren’t going to worry about any premium punishment.
What’s wrong with the bill? First, the bill would add a federal crime to an area best left to the states, which handle most crimes.
To be sure, there is already the aforementioned federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. But just because the federal government is treading where it shouldn’t, doesn’t mean the law should be expanded to cover the classes you like.
What’s more, it doesn’t cover a status you are born with, like race or gender. It adds a profession that you choose. Who’s next for special status: Doctors? Plumbers? Preachers? Used car salesman?
Hate crimes are designed to punish the motivation on top of the crime itself. But they cover only certain selected classes of people. Doesn’t that violate the 14th Amendment’s mandate that everyone is entitled to “the equal protection of the law”? Are governments empowered to determine that some lives are more valuable than others, and those that harm them deserve extra punishment?
The American Civil Liberties Union long ago made social welfare reform more of a priority than protection of constitutional rights, so it isn’t surprising that it has supported hate crime laws. It didn’t at first, because it earlier versions would have had a “chilling effect” on free speech.
But it overcame its resistance because the latest federal version “only allows speech to be considered evidence of a hate crime if it directly relates to the specific act,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. So no one will be prosecuted based on a book read, or a religious service attended, she said, “unless those speech activities specifically related to a violent hate crime.”
What that means is you can still be punished for “thoughtcrime,” as George Orwell called it in his novel 1984.
But civil libertarian Nat Hentoff points out that hate crime statutes not only violate the First and 14th Amendments but the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy, since it allows federal prosecutors to go after criminal defendants found innocent in state court “because of insufficiently diligent prosecutors.”
“Is there no non-politically correct ACLU lawyer or staff worker or anyone in the ACLU affiliates around the country … outraged enough to demand of the ACLU’s ruling circle to at last disavow this corruption of the Constitution?” Hentoff asks.
Michael S. Rozeff, professor emeritus at the University of Buffalo, wonders why hatred is a special category under the law. “If you intend arson,” he writes, “don’t do it because you hate the person who owns the building. Do it because you like fires or want to collect insurance money. Hatred is punishable whereas liking fires or wanting to collect insurance money fraudulently are not punishable. Does this make sense? Why is hatred special? Why should the law punish hatred?”
It shouldn’t. The Supreme Court should get back to hate laws and declare them unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Buck’s bill deserves to die a quiet, unmourned death.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes once a week for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.