Rep. Sen. Gordon Smith for Hate Crimes Law

From The Advocate. Introduction and first two questions from interview follow; please see the link for the rest of the story.

To me this sounds like a very positive step. What is your take on the story?

Smith is a political opportunist. He ran on being “pro-hate-crime” legislation and “anti-ANWAR drilling,” to fool generally liberalish Oregonians into ignoring his other pretty out-there right-wing positions. And it worked.

And what is so positive about determining the degree of punishment by the status of the victim? Why not treat all murder, assault, equally, regardless of who it was perpetrated upon?

Hate crime bills are nowehere near as important as either their supporters or their opponents pretend. Their value is almost completely symbolic. Not, as Seinfeld says, that there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes, a little bit of symbolism can do a bit of good.

It’s just that, in high-profile cases like the James Byrd and Matthew Sheppard murders, “hate crime” laws would have been utterly worthless. After all, two of the thugs who killed James Byrd were sentenced to death, and the third was given a life sentence. Meanwhile, Matthew Sheppard’s killers WOULD have gotten the death penalty, and were given “only” a life sentence because of intercession by Sheppard’s family.

In those cases, what would a Texas or Wyoming state “hate crime” law have done? Executed those guys twice? Given them TWO life sentences? Come on! We see clearly, from these cases, that even in the most conservative states of the Union, it’s NOT possible to kill a black man or a homosexual on a whim and walk away scot-free.

That said, are there cases in which racism or homophobia should be taken into consideration when a criminal is punished for a crime? Sure. When relatively minor criminals- vandals, for instance- are convicted and sentenced, it’s appropriate to consider their motives. A guy who spray paints the name of his favorite rock group on a schoolyard wall is not as bad as a guy who spray paints a swastika on a synagogue wall. I’d give the first guy a few hundred hours of community service; I’d give the second guy some jail time.

If a hate crimes bill provided for such distinctions, I could get behind it. So could many Republicans, I’m sure. I don’t see where such bills are crucial, or why anyone sees a pressing need for them, but if the symbolism is important to enough people (or if black Texans said that such a bill would REALLY make them feel much safer), I’d be willing to bow to their wishes and give it my vote… even if it seems rather meaningless in any practical sense.

For lesser crimes than murder, the hate crimes law will make a difference. It’s called punitive damages. I’m for it.

Seems like political opportunism to me. I hate the idea of hate crimes. Is that a crime?

Let’s take the whole murder idea out of it as we all agree that adding "hate"onto murder is meaningless.

  1. Bill is in a bar and he’s itching for a fight. He sees Bob (whom he does not know) and notices Bob is wearing some pretty fancy clothes. He bumps into Bob, instigates a fight and calls Bob “yuppy scum” and beats him up badly. All the witnesses agree that Bill instigated the fight with no provacation from Bob.

  2. Joe is in a Bar and he’s itching for a fight. He sees Dan (whom he does not know) and notices Dan has a rainbow patch sewed on his jeans. He bumps into Dan, instigates a fight and calls Dan “faggot scum”, and beats him up badly. All the witness agree that Joe instigated the fight with no provocation from Dan.

#2 would be called a hate crime, number 1 not. Only certain types of “hate” is a crime. I don’t buy it.

I’m against hate crimes legislation, so I would view this as a bad turn of events (and yes, I agree that the timing here reeks of opportunism). In addition to the standard argument against hate crime legislation, as well voiced by John Mace, I’m against it for the precedent it sets. In London, you can be fined for saying anything considered “hate speech”. Do we really want to put those kinds of limits on speech? Do we want to have to be afraid to voice opposition to things like Affirmative Action, because we may be fined for it on hate-speech grounds? I certainly don’t.

I’m opposed to hate crimes legislation, but if you are going to have it you ought to have it include homosexuals.

A more positive step would be allowing homosexual marriage.

I can’t think of any issue on which I’m more divided than the need for hate-crime legislation.

On the one hand, since there is an element of hate in most crime (and pretty much all violent crime), I think it’s superfluous, and divisive to draw such distinctions.

On the other hand: if one person sprays “Beat Ohio State” on a railroad trestle; and another sprays a swastika on a synagogue; both have committed vandalism. But IMO, the second person has commited a different, and worse, crime.


Good point. Hate crime legislation can easily lead to hate speech legislation. If it’s a crime to think it, it should be a crime to say it. I’m just floored that the idea of punishing thought can be given serious consideration.

But we’ve ALWAYS punished thought, in the sense of “intent”, when it comes to distinguishing different types of crime. The difference between first and second degree murder is, essentially, “What was the perpatrator thinking at the time he performed his act?”


Poly I am troubled that anyone would advocate passing a criminal statute inorder to make a political statement.
Kalhoun punitive damages are a civil remedy, not a criminal one.
suranyi I think you are confusing motive and intent. Motive is not an element of any crime of which I am aware. Intent is an element, at least of most crimes. To illustrate. Two men rob two different gas stations. They both shoot and kill the clerk. In fact, were you to watch video tapes of the two crimes they would be totally indistinguishable. Both robbers inteded to kill the clerk and shot him. Robber A was robbing to feed his family, robber B was robbing to feed his crack habit. Have they committed two different crimes? No.

Rhum, I think that political realities always figure into what politicians do – the decent ones simply decide what logs need to be rolled to get what they think right passed and what they think wrong defeated. If the GOP can “pull a march” on the Democrats by standing for a form of civil rights that’s part of the Lincolnian heritage of the party but has been very much downplayed in recent years, more power to them!

And I see Sen. Smith as a man of principle, from what little I’ve read of him and in interviews with him – he’s for it because it’s in his mind the right thing to do (and getting to know a gay activist supporter who campaigned for him during his last reelection probably helped clarify his thinking immensely); that it can be made to benefit his party is a secondary though valuable consideration.

Commenting on Gordon Smith:

Mr. Smith , while a lot more conservative than the usual statewide elected official in Oregon (Dem or Rep), also isn’t, according to the National Journal rating system, isn’t that far to the right. I’ll need to look at his rating again (they can be found in copies of “The Almanac of American Politics”), but I recall him scoring in the 40% Lib quotient.

Learn more crimes, Rhum :smiley:

Two examples under New York law, involving .

  1. Arson - arson in the second degree is arson where you harm or place at grave risk of harm persons. Arson in the first degree is the same crime, except that your motive for committing the arson is “pecuniary gain,” i.e., you do it for insurance money, or because you are paid.

  2. Murder - premeditated murder is (generally, unless it is a cop, etc.) second degree murder. However, if your motive for murder is to silence a witness or potential witness against you, it is murder in the first degree - and you can get the death penalty. Think of it - rather than motive not being an element, your motive can get you killed in New York State.

Kinda puts a big hole in the “we don’t punish thoughts, so we shouldn’t have hate crime legislation” argument, don’t it? In New York, at least, thoughts can be lethal.

I can provide you with several other examples where motive, as well as intent, is an element of a crime, if you want them (as well as cites for the New York laws described above, in case you don’t believe me ;))


hmmm, well I’m not sure that the arson one is motive in the same way that hate crimes are motive driven. Yes you are burning it down for money, but then, they don’t inquire what you want the money for, ie what your motive for the money is. That is weak, I admit.

In short, I got nuthin’ but I’ll think about it and get back to you. :smiley:

I hear what you are saying, but still this law looks far more political than anything else. Do we really need more federal crimes? Would DOJ actually prosecute the run-of-the-mill hate crimes, like vandalism? Should spray painting an anti-gay slur in the park be a federal crime, and if so, under what power is Congress acting?

Fourteenth Amendment justification – they’re harming the rights of American citizens. Collaborative prosecution, and probably mostly for more serious crimes (like assault) – for two good reasons: 1) Feds can put more pressure on a case than state courts often can, 2) Possible that a state official is not sympathetic; Feds are supposed to act professionally in accordance with the law as it stands, regardless of their personal feelings (which is of course true for state officials too, but there’s no framework to compel them to as there is in the Federal structure).

Poly I don’t read the XIV Amendment as giving Congress a general police power over citizens. It applies, in my mind, to State action only. I suppose you could try to hang it on the commerce clause, but in light of US v. Lopez, 514 US 549, I think that is going to be difficult. Sua if you are still following this, do you think there is any power for Congress to act here?


A murderer does not get charged with 1st, 2nd degree etc, because of his likes or dislikes wrt to the vicitm. It is about to what degree the murder lies on the accident/planned scale. That’s a whole 'nother thing than “hate crime”.

In the law, “motive” is a unitary concept - it simply means why you commit a crime. IOW, what thoughts are in your mind when you decide to commit/commit a crime.

One step at a time, John. The argument was raised that hate crime legislation is bad because it goes against our tradition of not punishing thoughts/motives.
I have established that we do, in fact, punish thoughts when connected to crimes, and always have.

Self-evidently, we do not punish all thoughts/motives, only certain ones. You appear to be arguing that we should not punish that category of thoughts that involve the perpetrator’s opinion of the victim and that victim’s race, gender, etc.

Fine. Present a cogent argument as to why this particular category of thoughts should not be punished. Because it is not “a whole 'nother thing” - it is merely a subset of the cactegory of motives.

The ‘slippery slope’ argument.
As I have noted, the motive of pecuniary gain bumps Arson 2 to Arson 1. Despite the fact that this has been the law in New York for ages, no arrest warrants have been sworn out against all those Wall Street traders who are seeking pecuniary gain every day.



I would hope that in our judicial system, it is you who must prove that certain “thoughts” are criminal, not the other way around. You seem to be assuming that thoughts are guilty until proven innocent.

“Present a cogent argument as to why this particular category of thoughts should not be punished”