Hate Crimes: What is the Proper Federal Role?

Civil Rights and Federalism & Separation of Powers Practice Groups and The Heritage Foundation

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In recent years, several bills have sought to greatly broaden the definition of federal hate crimes.  The most recent example, H.R. 1592, which passed the House in 2007, does not require proof of hate or malice at all.  H.R. 1592 would make it a federal crime to commit certain acts "because of" the victim's "actual or perceived race, color... religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability" whenever the offense is in or "affects" interstate or foreign commerce. Advocates of such legislation argue that the definition of a federal hate crime needs to be expanded to provide protection to all who suffer injury due to membership in a protected class.  Critics of such bills believe they would constitute an unconstitutional expansion of federal power, disproportionate to any alleged state failing to prosecute these crimes.  If constitutional, they also worry that such legislation would significantly expand the federalization of crime to encompass almost all muggings involving women or the elderly and almost all sexual crimes (few sex offenders are indifferent to their victim's gender); that this would undermine local accountability to prevent and prosecute such crimes, but could still result in double prosecutions in selective cases.  Is legislation such as H.R. 1592 necessary to protect individuals from acts that already violate state law?  Or is it feel-good legislation that is counterproductive to deterring and prosecuting such crimes?  Please join our panel of experts to discuss these important issues.


  • Prof. John Baker, Jr., Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law, Louisiana State University Law School
  • Prof. Gail Heriot, Professor of Law, University of San Diego School of Law and Commissioner, United States Commission on Civil Rights
  • Mr. Mark Agrast, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Mr. Steven Freeman, Legal Affairs Director, Anti-Defamation League
  • Moderator: Hon. Edwin Meese, Chairman, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation