Four congressmen oppose making lynching a federal crime: 'It endangers freedom of speech'

Law named for lynching victim Emmett Till passed overwhelmingly

Andrew Naughtie@andrewnaughtie
Thursday 27 February 2020 15:30
House of Representatives passes lynching bill

Republican members of Congress oppose making lynching a federal crime

Four members of Congress – one independent and three Republicans – have voted against a law that will make lynching a federal crime.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill, with 410 members voting in support. However, four members voted against it: Republicans Thomas Massie, Ted Yoho and Louie Gohmert and independent Justin Amash.

As their opposition to the bill meets with both outrage and bafflement, the four congressmen are offering various explanations for their votes.

Mr Massie, who has a reputation for voting against bipartisan legislation in Congress, said that “Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties, such as freedom of speech.”

Mr Yoho explained his opposition to the bill as a broader matter of states’ rights, saying that hate crimes were already punishable by death in his state and that for the federal government to pass the bill “encroaches on the principles of federalism”.

Mr Gohmert, meanwhile, said he “had trouble with the federal nexus of lynching” and said the bill “sends entirely the wrong message about how serious this is” by only allowing for a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

And Mr Amash took to Twitter to explain his vote in a long thread, explaining that he opposed the bill for several reasons, including its “federalisation of criminal law”.

“Creating federal crimes for matters that are normally handled by the state obscures which government – federal or state – is responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime,” he wrote. “It gives power to unelected federal officials whom voters can’t directly hold accountable.”

The law is named the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act in tribute to a 14-year-old boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly looking and whistling at a white woman. It was introduced in February last year by Illinois congressman Bobby Rush, who said it would at last outlaw “an American evil”.

Congress has been trying to pass a bill to make lynching illegal for more than 100 years. A version of this latest bill was approved by the Senate, but the version passed by the House will have to be passed again in the upper chamber.

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