Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday urging passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Holder opened his remarks by referencing the recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, as evidence of continued hate crimes and the need for this legislation to finally be passed. Holder said the bill’s passage is one of his “highest personal priorities.”
The bill, which passed in the House in April, would allow for “federal prosecution of violence undertaken because of the actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity of any person.” Under current federal hate crime laws, perpetrators can be prosecuted for violence motivated by race, color, religion, and national origin only if the crime involves a specific federal activity, such as voting or traveling across state lines.
Holder also said, “federal government has a strong interest in protecting people from violent crimes motivated by such bias and bigotry.” Over the past ten years, approximately one hate crime has occurred every hour of every day. Previous versions of the bill faced various legislative roadblocks under the Bush administration: similar bills did not make it out of committee in several Congresses between 2002, when the legislation was first introduced, and 2007, when the bill finally passed the House, but was never voted on in the Senate. President Bush had indicated that he would veto the bill if it was passed by Congress.