(H.R. 1913) The bill providing federal assistance to states, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes, and to add disability, age, sexual orientation, and service in the military or law enforcement to the categories of protected classes -- on the resolution setting the terms for debating the bill
H.R. 1913 gave the U.S. Attorney General authority to provide assistance to state and local governments to investigate and prosecute violent crimes motivated by prejudice based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or previous military or law enforcement service. This was a vote on the resolution or “rule” setting the terms for debating H.R. 1913.The arguments made for and against the rule focused largely on the substance of the bill itself.
Rep. Hastings (D-FL), who was leading the effort on behalf of the rule, noted that the legislation was motivated in large part by recent hate crimes that had occurred as a result of the sexual orientation of the victim. He argued that its passage would “enhance our country's 233-year tradition of protecting liberty, freedom, and acceptance”, and noted that, under existing federal law, the government “is only authorized (to act) in those cases in which the victim was targeted because of race, color, religion, or national origin.” He went on to say that the government needed to make clear that hate crimes committed because of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, or disability are to be viewed like those motivated by factors such as race or ethnicity.
Referring to arguments he anticipated would be made against the bill as an infringement on free speech, Hastings first said: “(T)his legislation is not about thinking or believing, but acting and harming. This legislation strengthens, not weakens, the First Amendment freedom of speech protections. It prohibits for use as evidence a defendant's speech or association unless specifically related to the crime, and this legislation does not disturb constitutionally protected speech or associations . . . It criminalizes acts of violence against people based on the victim's characteristics. “
Rep. Foxx (R-NC), who was leading the opposition to the rule, said that the overriding issue with this legislation was its “chilling effect” on free expression. She noted that “we have a long tradition of protecting the speech of everyone, from those with the most mainstream ideas to those on the fringe.” Foxx added that “in the end, in a healthy marketplace of ideas where the public square allows for an airing of all ideas . . . bankrupt ideas are destined to fail. We should not live and legislate in fear of bankrupt ideas.”
Foxx argued that the bill will start the country “down the road towards a public square that is less robust, more restrictive, and that will squelch our cherished constitutional right to free speech. It will establish a new category of criminal activity, which is thought crimes. Today it is the politically correct thought crimes, those directed toward certain protected groups, but . . . it is but a small step to add new types of thought crimes to the list, and suddenly we find ourselves back on the Orwellian threshold of Nineteen Eighty-Four and staring down the specter of the thought police.” She concluded by noting her “distress” over the fact that the rule for considering the bill restricted the amendments that could be offered; she claimed that some of the amendments the Republicans wanted to offer would have been approved by the House.
The rule passed by a vote of 234-190. The two hundred and thirty-four “aye” votes were all cast by Democrats. Fifteen other Democrats joined with all one hundred and seventy-five Republicans in voting “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin consideration of H.R. 1913.