In News Conference, Leahy Sums Up Long Effort To Pass Bill Strengthening Hate Crimes Law

WASHINGTON – In a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hailed Thursday night’s final passage of long-sought legislation to strengthen federal hate crime laws.  Leahy is chief sponsor of the hate crimes legislation that is now headed to President Obama, who has said he will sign it.  The hate crimes measure will broaden federal hate crimes law to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Leahy spearheaded this year’s successful efforts to pass this legislation, having worked with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the bill for many years before.  Leahy said former President Bush’s “threat to veto the bill has been replaced by President Obama’s signing pen.”

Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Passage Of The Matthew Shepard And James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
Press Conference
October 23, 2009

After more than a decade, Congress has finally passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  I am proud that we have come together to show that violence against members of any group because of who they are will not be tolerated in this country.

Of course, I thank Leader Reid, for his essential role in enacting this legislation.  It would also have not been possible without the leadership of Senator Levin.  This is also an opportunity to remember the steadfast work of Senator Ted Kennedy who provided leadership on this issue for more than a decade.  I wish he could have been here to see this bill, about which he was so passionate, finally enacted.   We miss him but his good work goes on.

We recently marked the 11th anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard.  Matthew’s parents have worked courageously and tirelessly for this legislation, which aims to ensure that this kind of despicable act will never be tolerated in this country.  The bill was named for Matthew, as well as for James Byrd, Jr., a black man who was killed in 1998 because of his race in another awful crime that galvanized the Nation against hateful violence.

President Obama has changed the course of the last administration regarding this legislation.  The legislation passed today faces no threat of veto.  It is long overdue.   This historic provision will improve existing law by making it easier for Federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes of racial, ethnic, or religious violence.  Victims will no longer have to engage in a narrow range of activities, such as serving as a juror, to be protected under Federal law.  It also focuses the attention and resources of the Federal government on the problem of crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, which are much needed protections.  This provision also provides resources to State, local, and tribal law enforcement to address hate crimes.
Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation.  For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a Nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting Federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.  The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act continues that great and honorable tradition.  By passing this legislation, we show, once again, that America values tolerance and protects all of its people.

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