Why not come out against lynching?

There are apparently 20 Senators who can be called, perhaps unfairly, pro-lynching.

While there are, in my opinion, more elements of this story that are worthy of the Pit than of GD, I am curious about whether there is any debate to be found regarding the motivations, and the political calculus presumably employed by, these 20 Senators.

I can certainly understand the thinking for those Senators who might be pro-lynching, or at least soft on the condemnation of lynching, but who would sign off in support of an anti-lynching bill because they recognize that it might look better to do so in the eyes of their constituents.

On the other hand, the only meaningful reason I can fathom for not signing off on such a measure is that these Senators feel it is in their political best interest to at least remain neutral when it comes to lynching.

So: 1) Is there any other meaningful reason to not sign off on this legislation? I am excluding (from my thinking, but not from debate) reasons such as nitpicking about whether such a measure is redundant in regards to other prohibitions of murder, as well as whether the Senators just didn’t have the time or opportunity to sign, because I cannot believe that greater political consideration regarding the effects of their actions would outweigh these reasons.

  1. Is it really likely the case that, in this day and age, voters represented by these Senators would be moved to vote against them because of their support for an anti-lynching measure?

Hm…third post today that got eaten by the board.

My questions would be…how big of a problem is this in the US these days? I did a quick google search and basically turned up variations on this story and a few hits on lynchings in the distant past (and a few on lynchings as part of human sacrifice that don’t seem to fit in). If there are, oh, maybe on lynching a year (just a guess), it doesn’t seem like it should even be on the radar…I mean, do we need a special law (over and above the laws already on the books) for ax murder, murder by ice pick or some other strange method of murder? In addition, why aren’t existing murder/racial laws sufficient…why does there need to be a special law for this?

I haven’t had time to go through the article you cited yet admittedly, so maybe the answers to my questions are in there. Those were just my initial thoughts.


I haven’t seen any statements by the Senators who didn’t sign the resolution, but two possible reasons why they might not have signed were that they were concerned that by apologizing for not passing lynching legislation they were opening the way up for lawsuits/reperations or because they believed that anti-lynching legislation had been a matter for the state governments.

It’s not even a law, it’s just a resolution. Basically, 80 senators got together and said, let’s make an official statement that lynching is bad. 20 refused to join in on that statement.

Right…never mind. I’m reading through the story right now. I guess this is the form of a historic appology for not enacting laws from the 1800’s until the mid to late 1900’s. I have no idea why they didn’t sign then.


Does anyone have a link to the text of the senate bill? I googled a bit, but could only find stories about it, not the actual text. Was this an apology or an actual bill to make lynching a federal crime? If it’s the latter, then what is the basis for federalizing murder charges? If it’s the racial character of the crime, would a white guy lynched by a white mob be prosecuted?

It’s just an apology:

I apologize. I failed to give my OP sufficient context, nor described the resolution coherently in the OP. Here’s the text of the resolution.

I guess I would see, from some point of view, how some of the speculated arguments might be advanced, but I still don’t see how they would outweigh the political appearance of failing to support this resolution. I mean, I am trying to figure out what would go in this blank:

My voters will not vote for me because they more strongly believe that it is important to ________________________ than it is to oppose lynching, so I cannot directly appear to support this resolution condemning lynching.

  • keep unnecessary laws off the books
  • avoid possible lawsuits by families of victims
  • keep the federal government out of the matter of violent crimes

I can’t really see how these fit so that a Senator would risk being tarred as pro-lynching in order to please these constituent groups.

Interestingly enough, there were several attempts by the Senate to pass anti-lynching laws.

And although these laws had majority support, the filibuster was used by Southern Senators to stop them from passing.

We know where you’re going with that one, and it doesn’t fly. The filibuster is a parliamentary tool that can be used for “good” purposes as well as “bad”. It’s the motivation of the people behind the tool, not the tool that is important.

What do you think of the constutionality of a federal law against lynching? When does murder (which is what lynching is) become a federal crime? I’m honestly curious about that because I don’t know.

Me, too. I’d hesitate even to speculate on the motivation w.o hearing from some of the Senators. Given how secure seats in Congress are, I can’t imagine a Senator fearing a voter backlash for supporting this bill. And the Senators who opted out seem to come from a cross section of states all over the country, not from what might be considered the traditionally racists southern states (where I assume most of the lynching activity took place).

I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that nobody who has been lynched has ever been prosecuted for their participation.

I acknowledge completely the emotional and political intent and apology that the legislation represents, but I disagree completely with the legislation for this simple point. It’s already unquestionably illegal to murder. I’m giving the republican opposition the benefit of the doubt that they are opposed due to trying to resrict an unnecessary bloating of the federal lawbooks, instead of any lingering entrenched racism.

A possible benefit that might exist, however, would be that local (county/state) miscarraiges of justice would be less likely if federal oversight were enacted.

I don’t see a general federal law against lynching being possible. However, if the lynching is done as part of an effort to intimidate people from exercising their federal civil rights, then that would be sufficient fodder for Congress to act.

Again, though, it’s not a law we’re talking about. It’s just a resolution saying, essentially, that lynching is bad. There will be no addition to the federal law books due to this resolution.

It’s not a resolution saying that lynching is bad (although that’s part of it). It’s a resolution apologizing because the Senate did not enact anti-lynching legislation. While a nice sentiment, it’s basically meaningless – “I’m sorry that the Senate (of which I was not a member of at the time) did not pass a law against lynching.”

Commerce clause!

The person being lynched is a potential consumer of products manufactured in other states.


Here is the final portion of the resolution:

I’m still trying to work out why anyone would fail to get behind this. Perhaps Bricker is correct - somehow, these 20 recognize that the filibuster was used in the past to kill anti-lynching bills, so they are protesting that in some way by refusing to sign on to this apology resolution. I guess I’m still a little fuzzy as to how exactly the filibuster fits in here, but I’m sure Bricker had it worked out in his head.

I think it basically comes down to this being such a meaningless resolution that it’s just not high on their radar. It’s not as if they are actively staying away from it, it’s just not all that important for them to waste their time on it.

The original anti-lynching laws were attempted in Congress because certain southern states were notoriously lax in prosecuting lynchers. “Everybody knowed who done it, but nobody done nothin’ about it.” At the state level. The idea was that if the states didn’t do their duty to prosecute lynchers, the feds could.

I realize murder is a state thing, but does gross failure of a state to act against a class of murderers (as could reasonably be said about some southern states back then) allow the feds to step in and take care of business for them?