New Hate-Crimes Bill Risks Double Jeopardy

Did Congressman John Lewis even bother to read the recklessly broad federal hate-crimes bill he voted for? (Opinion page column, “Victims of hate crimes need bill’s insurance,” May 18.)

He claimed it “does not add penalties for hate crimes,” but just helps states fight hate crimes.

In reality, Section 6 of the bill mandates federal penalties of up to life in prison for “hate crimes.”

What is troubling about the bill is that people found innocent in a state hate-crimes prosecution could be reprosecuted in federal court, taking advantage of a loophole in constitutional double-jeopardy protections.

That concerns even some defenders of local hate-crimes laws, like Yale law professor Akhil Amar.

Portions of the bill would also allow people to be prosecuted in federal court even if their crime had nothing to do with federally protected activities. That would violate the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Morrison (2000), which struck down a federal gender-based hate-crimes law as beyond Congress’s enumerated powers.