June 25th, 2009
03:45 PM ET
14 years ago

Holder pushes hate crimes law; GOP unpersuaded

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/08/art.getty.holder.jpg caption="Holder stepped up his call for the passage of federal hate crimes legislation Thursday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Attorney General Eric Holder stepped up his call for the passage of federal hate crimes legislation Thursday, arguing that the federal government needs to take a stronger stand against criminal activity fueled by bias and bigotry.

He also sought to assure opponents that such a bill would not allow Christian clergy to be prosecuted for outspoken opposition to homosexuality.

Holder made his remarks during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The bill would allow the Justice Department to provide assistance to state and local authorities in the prosecution of hate crimes, while also expanding federal protection against hate crimes to cover disability, gender, and sexual orientation.

"Hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities," Holder said.

"Perpetrators of hate crimes seek to deny the humanity that we all share, regardless of the color of our skin, the God to whom we pray, or the person who we choose to love. ... The time is now to provide justice to victims of bias-motivated violence and to re-double our efforts to protect our communities from violence based on bigotry and prejudice."

The attorney general argued that "recent numbers ... suggest that hate crimes against certain groups are on the rise, such as individuals of Hispanic national origin."

Specifically, he noted, more than 77,000 hate crime incidents were reported by the FBI between 1998 and 2007, or "nearly one hate crime for every hour of every day over the span of a decade."

In light of such statistics, he said, it was one of his "highest personal priorities ... is to do everything I can to ensure this critical legislation finally becomes law."

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee disputed Holder's assertion that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of hate crimes. They also questioned the need for federal involvement in the prosecution of violent acts - traditionally a function of state and local governments.

They pointed to FBI figures showing a slight decline from 7,755 hate crimes reported in 1998 to 7,624 in 2007, the most recently compiled statistics.

It is "important to know (if) we have a problem of significant numbers of (hate crime) cases ... not being prosecuted in state and local governments," said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the committee.

"Murders occur all over America every day. Robberies, assaults, rapes, burglaries occur every day, and those are handled by our state and local jurisdictions. ... They do a pretty good job."

When pressed, Holder acknowledged he had no hard evidence of trends showing the problem getting worse, nor that states are not prosecuting cases based on their own state hate crimes statutes.

The attorney general insisted, however, that the issue should be viewed more broadly.

"It seems to me this is a question of conscience," Holder argued. He emphasized that the bill is designed to give special protections to groups that historically have been victims solely based on who they are.

Holder added that while state and local governments generally do a good job prosecuting violent crimes, there is nevertheless a need for the federal government to serve as a "backstop" on occasion, particularly if localities lack the resources for an effective investigation or prosecution.

"There are instances where the (federal) government needs to come in," he said.

He also asserted that any federal hate crimes law would be used only to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.

"It is the person who commits the actual act of violence, who would be subject to this legislation, not the person who is simply expressing an opinion," Holder said.

Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality.

The attorney general has been a vocal proponent of federal hate-crimes legislation since his tenure in the Clinton Justice Department. Last week, in a speech on civil rights, he cited three recent fatal shootings in calling for stricter hate crimes laws.

"The violence in Washington, Little Rock and Wichita reminds us of the potential threat posed by violent extremists and the tragedy that ensues when reasoned discourse is replaced by armed confrontation," he said.

Holder was referring to the shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, allegedly by a self-avowed white supremacist; the shooting of two U.S. soldiers in Little Rock, Arkansas, allegedly by a man prosecutors say was targeting the U.S. military for what it had done to Muslims; and the murder of a doctor who ran a women's clinic in Wichita, Kansas, allegedly by an abortion opponent.

–CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report

Filed under: Eric Holder
soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. S. Ralph

    We were left with instructions how to live. over two thousand years ago Several times it was mentioned in rhe bible obout homosexuals. Those people are allowed to live together or do pretty much what they
    want to do.. What I can't stomach is having it thrust in our faces all the time. Wheather you believe in God or Jesus is a personal choice but
    allow the believers to live the way we choose. Aids is spread all over the world and guess who is responsible. I sincerely believe it is punishment
    for an ungodly way of life.

    June 25, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  2. PFFT

    Will the hate spewed by the left against the right be considered a crime? No, I doubt it because it's fine to debase a conservative white woman and make fun of her children. It's fine to attack someone who's praying a rosary some place that you don't think they should. It's fine and dandy to attack someone who's conservative. Make it the same against both sides and I agree with it, don't turn this into a thought crime bill which attacks those people with morals.

    June 25, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  3. John in Rochester MN

    @Doug who said:
    God knows all and is fair, crying about how it is some republicans faught will not be an excuse for living such a liberal life.
    Yeah, liberal like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, helping the sick. What kind of sick, nasty liberal would do such a thing?

    June 25, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  4. Jen


    I'm having a hard time understanding you. You claim "libs" and/or Democrats are the most hateful people, so do you not agree with the term "bleeding-heart liberal" and the fact that the conservatives are up in arms over "democratic and/or liberal" imposed social programs that help people? Somehow showing compassion enough to help those who can't help themselves contradicts being hateful.

    June 25, 2009 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  5. elizabeth

    Repubs are haters, anyway, so what do they care? Anything that makes sense or promotes compassion cannot be made clear to them. Same old story w/them. Maybe they should be called the Grand Ol' Delusionaries.

    June 25, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    That's right GOP...put a black teenager in jail for 10 years cuz he was caught smoking a bone...but keep them good ole boys out of jail.

    "such as individuals of Hispanic national origin."

    You mean the people the GOP and neocons uniformly refer to as "illegals"? Gee, I wonder why anger towards them would be rising. Maybe the GOP can tell us....

    "Several religious groups have expressed concern that a hate crimes law could be used to criminalize conservative speech relating to subjects such as abortion or homosexuality."

    Is it just me or is there, somehwere in there, the inherent recognition by these fundy jackholes that they often go too far in their condemnation of people who get or provide services like abortions, particularly when they point at SPECIFIC PEOPLE, not just the issue itself?

    June 25, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  7. GJ

    @ray ray: The difference between assault on an elderly woman and an assault on a gay woman has to do with the very simple fact that gay women get assaulted JUST for being gay and elderly women do not.

    I know the GOPers will bend over backwards to try and make this a more complicated argument to support their bigotry but it isn't complicated. While straight people are never attacked for being heterosexual, gay people ARE attacked and killed for being gay and this law will prevent that. It is a needed and welcomed protection.

    June 25, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. Robin

    About katiec June 25th, 2009 4:28 pm ET
    The GOP supports and thrives on hate, anger, unrest and hypocrasy.
    Of course, they will not support anything related to hate crimes as that is the result of their propaganda.

    Wow, so since I'm Republican, I support hate crimes? Wow, who knew? I always thought that a crime is a crime.

    Doesn't matter if it is a 28 heterosexual or a 28 year old homosexual.

    Or the person who kicked my car and told the police it was because I had a McCain/Palin sticker. So that was a hate crime? Wow.

    June 25, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    The GOP is upset because they can no longer drag black folks from the back of their pickup trucks anymore. Well good! The law needs to be alot tougher on hat crimes. Just as there are crimes of passion, there are crimes of hate.

    June 25, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  10. Joe Terrogano

    First, the period of "decline" in hate crimes was mostly during the Bush years. I doubt that hate crimes were vigorously prosecuted since they went after U.S. Attorney's who did not tow the conservative line.

    Second, the white power groups who hate minorities, gays, liberals, and probably anyone with an education would be the most likely targets to be investigated.

    Third, Ms. Napolitano warned, was lambasted by the right wing, and then proven right by the abortionist shooting.

    This is the conservative Republican platform, obstruct, dent, and accuse. Which is why you will continue to fail. Cloaking yourselves in pseudo-religious posturing (The Moral Majority) won't work, the scam is now familiar.

    June 25, 2009 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  11. Robin

    John in Rochester MN June 25th, 2009 4:39 pm ET

    @Doug who said:
    God knows all and is fair, crying about how it is some republicans faught will not be an excuse for living such a liberal life.
    Yeah, liberal like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, helping the sick. What kind of sick, nasty liberal would do such a thing?

    I like holding a job and taking care of myself and my family. What a sick, nasty thing for a conservative to do.

    June 25, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  12. Mike

    All of you libs complain about racism and prejudice support and want to pass a bill that is blatantly racist and prejudiced. If two people are gunned down, it shouldn't matter what color they were, or what their religious preference was, or their stance on abortion, or what their sexual orientation was. The person that pulled the trigger should be charged with murder and be prosecuted. One should not get a lesser sentence or a longer sentence just because of the victims skin color or beliefs.

    June 25, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  13. Raymond Burgoon-Clark

    "Kristianist" clergy whose words inspire others to commit acts of violence against ANY minority group SHOULD be prosecuted.

    June 25, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  14. Mark Ramsey MD, Milwaukee WI

    Federal protection should definitely be extended to these three groups of people.

    June 25, 2009 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  15. Fitz

    Some of these comments here are truly idiotic. I've watched many a case of minorities convicted of hate crimes so these comments about these new, tougher laws only applies to white ior only certain groups are truly, truly idiotic. This country is really in trouble if some of you have to teach children to be grown ups

    June 25, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  16. Tim

    As long as there is an exception for hate crimes commited by Muslim's, in the name of Allah, then we'll be fine.

    June 25, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  17. Dylan Frendt

    How dare you, Eric Holder.

    How DARE you expect the Senate of the US, a body constitutionally mandated to make laws to protect the people, to make laws to protect people!

    How SICK and LIBERAL it is to even CONSIDER women, disabled people, and homosexuals as human beings. The NERVE.

    Nobody but right-winged lunatics deserve rights. Only guns and prayer...not civil liberties or equal protection. Only those on the conservative end of the spectrum deserve liberty, correct?

    Anything else would simply be too intelligent, fair, morally sound, and correct for our Republican friends to handle.

    June 25, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  18. Boston guy

    People, it's not about if you're A Dem or Repub. It's about protecting groups that have a target on their backs. Generally, Repub. are more hateful and less caring about anyone who isn't like them and thus will fight against any bill like this.

    You can bet Sen. Jeff Sessions would agree to this bill if "Christians" were the targets!!!

    June 25, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  19. phoenix86

    After seeing what the Holder's department classified as a hate group (people who don't agree with the government), I would hope that everyone really investigates and opines on this law before it is enacted.

    June 25, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  20. Joe Terrogano

    One more thing. Paranoia is characterized by deep hatred of others based in fear. The primary defense mechanism is projection, blaming others for the rage and violent impulses that the paranoid persons feels inside.

    I do not hate Palin, Rush, Newt, or any other conservatives. I despise some of their assertions and oppose their philosophy.

    June 25, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  21. Heather

    On a practical level, I genuinely don't understand the problem the GOP has with this. It's not about taking away free speech or personal freedoms. The only way this would affect them as individuals is if they assaulted someone based on their race/gender/orientation. They would still be perfectly free to spew hate verbally, if they chose to do so.

    June 25, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    Robin June 25th, 2009 4:53 pm ET
    I like holding a job and taking care of myself and my family. What a sick, nasty thing for a conservative to do.
    You're absolutely right. Liberals don't have jobs and are waiting for a handout. I just hope that my impending tax hike (that I'm fine with paying) isn’t going to in some way better the life of a Conservative or the health of their child.

    This is the new America….2 separate sides. I’m fine with it.

    June 25, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  23. David

    SN in MN June 25th, 2009 3:48 pm ET

    This is an effort to criminalize Whites, Christians, and heterosexuals. This laws are rarely ever applied against minorities, as though they are above prejudice and bigotry.
    Just like current drug laws are meant to criminalize Blacks and other minorities. Whites get a lesser sentence for powder cocaine and minorities tend get a stiffer sentance for crack, even though the two are both harmful drugs.

    June 25, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  24. Doug, New Jersey

    "Yeah, liberal like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, helping the sick. What kind of sick, nasty liberal would do such a thing?"

    Thowing some of someone else's money at this problem while wanting to perpetuate generation after generation of poor uneducated people to remain that way simply for political benefit is exactly what I'm talking about, yeah I'd say that libs who are part of this are nasty!

    BTW, the sick cannot really help the sick, most of you don't even see your own problems.

    June 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  25. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Hmmm, I couldn't agree more GOP. A whopping 0.983% drop in hate crimes over a TEN year period is a sign of real progress and makes further hate crime legislation unnecessary. R-i-i-i-ght. And for all you ignoramuses (like Doug in NJ) this is legislation about violent crime committed with the primary motivation being a bias towards the victim's race, sexual orientation, skin color, etc. It has NOTHING to do with freedom of speech or expression.

    June 25, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
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