National Association of Attorneys General
Federal Hate Crimes Bill Signed into Law
President Obama signed into law Oct. 28 the federal hate crimes bill known as the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” (P.L. #111-84). It went into effect upon signing as part of the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.”
The Act expands the federally protected classes to now include protections against crimes of violence based on a victim’s actual or perceived disability, race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. While this law expands the federally protected classes, it is important to note that states’ enforcement authority with respect to bias-related crimes provides an additional layer of protection within the civil rights landscape.
Notable provisions of the new federal law include:
- Offering assistance to state, local and tribal law enforcement officials during criminal prosecutions and investigations, including technical and forensic assistance.
- Authorizing grants through the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, for programs training local law enforcement officers in combating hate crimes committed by juveniles.
- Providing for reporting on federal mandatory minimum sentencing by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
- Expanding statistical data collection to include information on crimes committed by, and directed against, juveniles.
While we can take a broader look at specific state enforcement at a later date, it is important to note that states, too, hold valuable tools to combat civil rights violations and bias crimes. States derive their civil rights enforcement power from civil and criminal statutes, hate crimes statutes, and case law. Indeed, some state hate crime laws impose, among other things, enhanced criminal penalties for bias-related incidents against their protected classes.
For an overview of the new law, go to http://thomas.loc.gov/.
Attorney General Office Highlight: Reestablished Civil Rights Unit
Oregon Attorney General John R. Kroger recently announced the re-creation of the Oregon Civil Rights Unit. Working with the state legislature, General Kroger made it a priority to reestablish a Civil Rights unit within the Oregon Department of Justice, which ceased to exist in the 1980’s. Diane Schwartz Sykes, senior assistant attorney general, has been appointed to lead the Oregon Department of Justice Unit, which will “ensure that if the civil rights and civil liberties o[f] Oregonians are violated, the culprits will be held accountable in court.” NAAG welcomes the new Unit and its staff.