On June 16, six of eight commissioners for the Republican-controlled U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a letter (PDF) opposing Senate Bill 909, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

USCCR Civil Rights Commissioners Dissent from GOPs Blind Opposition to Hate Crimes BillFocus on the Family and LifeSiteNews cheered the news yesterday, falsely insinuating that the commission was liberal and lying outright about the nature of the legislation itself, Section 10 of which explicitly protects religious speech from prosecution. Focus further implied that the entire commission supported the letter.

Today, commissioner Michael Yaki — one of two Democratic appointees, both of whom dissented from the majority in a letter to Sen. Edward Kennedy — was kind enough to send a copy of the letter of dissent to Truth Wins Out.

The letter of dissent reveals the shocking truth that the commissioners failed to examine the bill or the underlying problems associated with hate crimes before they voted to oppose the legislation:

The Commission’s national office staff has done no fact-finding into the extent or damage of hate crimes in recent years. Nor, to our knowledge, has the agency’s national office staff done any analysis of S. 909 or reviewed the many forms of state hate crime legislation that have spread throughout the country in recent years.

Tbe full text of the letter is offered below. Emphasis is in the original document.

[U.S. Commission on Civil Rights letterhead]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2101

Re: S. 909 The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009

DELIVERY BY EMAIL

Dear Senator Kennedy:

We write in our individual capacities as Commissioners on the U.S. Commision on Civil Rights (“Commission”) to applaud your sponsorship of The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (S. 909) and announce our enthusiastic support for this legislation.

We are particularly encouraged that S. 909 addresses violent cries of intolerance committed on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. Indeed, one advisory committee to the Commission found that, “hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias are the hate crimes most tolerated by the society.”(1) [Ohio Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Hate Crime in Ohio, January 1995, pg. 47.] In the past, the Commission has spoken with one voice against all manner of hate crimes.

Regrettably, the majority of the Commission voted on May 15th, 2009 to oppose S. 909. They did so without examination by the Commission of the bill or the underlying problems associated with hate crimes. Therefore, we urge you and other Senators to consider the Commission majority’s opposition in context. Their opposition does not reflect a studied position backed by agency research, but rather reflects an extreme viewpoint that is against federal action to enforce civil rights laws, a viewpoint that has historically been rejected by bipartisan majorities of the Congress.

The Commission majority’s opposition to S. 909 does not reflect a studied position of the agency. The Commission’s national office staff has done no fact-finding into the extent or damage of hate crimes in recent years. Nor, to our knowledge, has the agency’s national office staff done any analysis of S. 909 or reviewed the many forms of state hate crime legislation that have spread throughout the country in recent years. The past work of the Commission’s state advisory committees on hate crimes was disregarded by the majority. In short, there has been no substantive research or fact-finding concerning either S. 909 or hate crimes more generally by the Commission that our colleagues can offer in support of their position. The Commission majority’s entire discussion of S. 909 lasted a few minutes during a May business meeting. The opposition of our colleagues to this legislation is, therefore, only a product of their individual ideologies rather than one deriving from Commission investigation.

The Commission majority’s opposition to S. 909 is based on a flawed interpretation of the necessity of federal action to enforce civil rights laws. The root of the Commission majority’s opposition appears to be their ideological opposition to the federalization of any criminal laws. Our colleagues blankly assert their opposition without any consideration of the specific benefits in S. 909 of federal jurisdiction over hate crimes and without attention to the historic importance of the federal government’s leadership on civil rights issues. We do not believe the Congress should retreat from principles of federal jurisdiction on civil rights issues that have been firmly established since the 1950s. Where state and local jurisdictions fail, history has shown that the federal government is often the lasat recourse to uphold civil rights. The irony of our colleagues’ opposition is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act — both enacted with overwhelming bipartisan majorities — were predicated on the necessity of federal intervention, a position rejected explicitly by our colleagues.

It is unfortunate that the name of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, once renowned for its bipartisanship, scholarship and presentation of hard facts should be misused to oppose this critical legislation. We regret the agency has come to operate in such a sharply ideological manner and look forward to a time when the Commision again speaks with a bipartisan voice to advance and protect civil rights.

Senator Kennedy, we thank you for your leadership in the passage of S. 909 and in so much other civil rights legislation that has benefitted the country. We wish you the best of health and success in your efforts to serve the nation. Please share this letter with others as you fight for passage of S. 909.

Thank you,

[signature]
Michael Yaki
Commissioner

[signature]
Arlen D. Melendez
Commissioner

cc:
Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds
Vice Chair Abigail Thernstrom
Commissioner Peter N. Kirsanow
Staff Director Martin Dannenfelser
Commissioner Ashley L. Taylor, Jr.
Commissioner Gail Heriot
Commissioner Todd Gaziano