As a legislator you are occasionally faced with difficult votes. The most challenging among them are bills where you have to accept some provision you are less than thrilled with in order to get parts you enthusiastically support. Some bills are just repugnant to you and they are easy nays. Some are primarily something(s) that reflect your core beliefs and they are easy ayes. Then there are the no-brainer bills where you simply vote in the affirmative and move on. It is one such bill that I want to discuss today. Let’s explore.
On Wednesday of last week the House took up HR 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. It passed 410-4 and was received in the Senate the next day. I had to wonder who could have voted against it and what their reasoning was.
The four nay votes were cast by a familiar quartet of outliers (I’m being polite): Republicans Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ted Yoho of Florida and were joined by Republican recently turned independent Justin Amash of Michigan.
Gohmert found the ten year maximum included in the act inadequate. While on the surface I agree with that conclusion the legislation had to conform with other federal legislation, the crime would almost never be brought to trial with that charge standing alone and it certainly beats the perpetrator (or most often perpetrators) going uncharged.
Massie and Yoho said the law was an infringement of state’s rights. I found no evidence to suggest they made a joint statement in front of a confederate flag but that would have been an appropriate setting.
Amash said the bill was unconstitutional along with a threat to civil liberties and civil rights – particularly those of people of color. Perhaps I’m not at Amash’s level of consciousness but I think being lynched is a pretty big infringement on an individual’s civil liberties and rights.
While federal hate crimes may seem redundant to many there is a need to codify many crimes under federal law and effectively take the locals out of it. The decision of whether to arrest often falls to a local sheriff or police chief. Sheriffs have to run for reelection and Police Chiefs are often effectively political appointees. The decision to prosecute non-federal crimes is in the hands of the local District Attorney which is also an elected office. Let’s assume that both the chief local law enforcement officer and DA are fair honest people who take their job seriously (most often they are). Despite that fact they are responsible to the electorate which often thinks prejudice first and justice second. Do you think that even in early 21st century America the local population always is totally unbiased? I wish that were always the case but I know it isn’t. Therefore having the feds come in from the outside protects the local officials while serving justice and if you believe in the disincentive theory preventing crime.
The nay votes of these four are real head scratchers and I hope you monitor the votes of your elected representatives in Washington or at least review them come election time.
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