Nat Hentoff on ‘Hate Crime’ Laws

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Nat Hentoff discusses the prospects of future “hate crime” legislation at a Cato Institute Policy Perspectives forum held in New York City, April 30, 2009  relative to the 1st and 14th amendments.

ACLU on wrong side of ‘thought crimes’ bill

Posted: May 06, 2009
Why is the press remaining mostly silent about the so-called “hate crimes” bill that passed in the House on April 29? The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in a 249-175 vote (17 Republicans joined with 231 Democrats). These Democrats should have been tested on their knowledge of the First Amendment, equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment) and the prohibition of double jeopardy (no American can be prosecuted twice for the same crime or offense). If they had been, they would have known that this proposal, now headed for a Senate vote, violates all these constitutional provisions.

Corey adds that the state “hate crime” law – like the newly expanded House of Representatives federal bill – “does not apply equally” (as the 14th Amendment requires), essentially instead “criminalizing only politically incorrect thoughts directed against politically incorrect victim categories.”

Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, think hard about what Corry adds: “A government powerful enough to pick and choose which thoughts to prosecute is a government too powerful.”

( I might add…..Thomas  Jefferson once wrote,, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little, as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”)

But James Madison, who initially introduced the First Amendment to the Constitution, had previously written to Thomas Jefferson on the passage of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom: “We have in this country extinguished forever … making laws for the human mind.” No American, he emphasized later, would be punished for his “thoughts.”

However, doesn’t the House bill state that nothing in the legislation shall “prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition” – or speech “protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses in the First Amendment”?

As for the 14th Amendment’s essential requirement that no person be denied “the equal protection of the laws,” there is carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

This legislation, certain to be passed by the Senate, will come to the Supreme Court. I hope the justices will look up at the carving as they go into the building.