Jacob Sullum

The hate crime bill, which authorizes federal prosecution whenever the Justice Department perceives a bigoted motive and believes the perpetrator has not been punished severely enough, continues the unfortunate tendency to federalize crimes that are properly the business of state and local governments, just so legislators like Pelosi can show they care. Although the Bush administration claims to be concerned about this trend, the details of its objections to the bill (not to mention its history of supporting unconstitutional expansions of the federal government) suggest otherwise.

In federalizing bias-motivated crimes -- potentially including every heterosexual rape, a crime that arguably is always committed "because of" the victim's gender -- Congress claims to be exercising its authority to regulate interstate commerce. But the connection can be as tenuous as a weapon that has crossed state lines, interference with the victim's "economic activity" or anything else that "affects interstate or foreign commerce."

The president's complaint is not that such a broad definition of interstate commerce leaves nothing beyond the federal government's authority. It's that Congress neglected to include the all-purpose Commerce Clause boilerplate in one section of the bill. Contrary to the impression left by the Constitution, Congress evidently can do whatever it wants, as long as it says the magic words.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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