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To combat an increase in hate crimes, the federal government passes the Hate Crime and Discrimination Prevention Act (the Act.) The Act covers a variety of crimes and actions motived by animosity towards individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, religion, or race.
In passing the Act, Congress found that “eliminating racially motivated violence, intimidation, and discrimination in public spaces is an important means of eliminating, to the extent possible, the badges and incidents of slavery.” Congress provided evidence of the long history of racially motivated crimes and discrimination in public places of accommodation. These actions, Congress stated, were committed through a culture of intimidation that grew out of the institution of slavery.
Section 1 of the Act specifically targets “offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” This section additionally provides:
“Whoever willfully causes bodily injury to any person or through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause or causes bodily harm to any person because of the actual or perceived race of any person shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years.”
To ensure that all individuals have equal access to public spaces, Section 2 provides:
“Whoever by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates, or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because of his race and because he is or has been enjoying the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which serves the public shall be fined or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
A is a longtime member of a white supremacy group and specifically targets B, an African-American man, because of B’s race. A threatens to hurt B if B does not leave a public park. A proceeds to assault B when B refuses to leave. The assault against B is both verbal, including the repeated use of racial slurs and threats, and physical, resulting in a broken leg and concussion. A is charged with hate crimes under Section 1 and Section 2 of the Act.
In response, A argues that Sections 1 and 2 of the Act are unconstitutional because Congress lacked the constitutional authority to enact them. The government argues that both Section 1 and 2 are constitutional as exercises of Congress’s power under the Thirteenth Amendment.