The mother of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday in attempt to convince members to support the Hates Crimes Prevention Act, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The proposed bill would strengthen existing hate crimes legislation so that the federal government could prosecute individuals who commit violence crimes based on a person’s race, religion, national origin, gender disability, or sexual orientation.
Judy Shepard told committee members, “My son Matthew was the victim of a brutal hate crime and I believe this legislation is necessary to make sure no family again has to suffer like mine.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch indicated that he thought the bill might be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and urged revisions. Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar has suggested that hate crimes language be used to determine penalties, rather than to influence prosecution. Amar also suggested that the federal government might assist states in prosecuting offenders rather than trying them in separate courts.
Russell Henderson was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences for the murder of Matthew Shepard. His accomplice, Aaron McKinney, will be tried in August and could face the death penalty.