Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is blocking the passage of a Senate bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime, because he worries that it would be used for lesser violent crimes that result in only “minor bruising.”
Paul on Wednesday told reporters that he objected to the bipartisan measure, which appeared on the verge of passage by unanimous consent after more than a century of similar legislation being blocked, because it might “conflate lesser crimes with lynching.”
“We think that lynching is an awful thing that should be roundly condemned — that should be universally condemned,” Paul said.
However, he argued that the bill would be a “disservice to those who were lynched in our history” and result in “a new 10-year penalty for people who have minor bruising.”
“We don’t think that’s appropriate, and someone has to read these bills and make sure they do what they say they’re going to do rather than it be just a big PR effort, and then everybody gets up in arms and wants to beat up anybody who wants to read the bill and actually make the bill strong,” he added.
Paul said in a statement that he aims to add an amendment to the legislation that would create a “serious bodily injury standard” so that only crimes involving “substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain” are prosecuted as lynching.
Democrats slammed the delay.
“It is shameful that one GOP Senator is standing in the way of seeing this bill become law,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., tweeted.
Paul’s comments came after the National Journal reported that he was the unnamed senator who bill co-sponsor Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said was blocking the legislation in March.
The bill was authored by Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. The Senate already passed an anti-lynching bill, but it stalled in the House, which instead opted to vote on the Emmett Till Antilynching Act sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. The bill, named after the 14-year-old black boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955, passed 410-4 in February.
Paul on Wednesday said the authors of the legislation should talk to him “about how to make the bill better.”
“If they want to pass it the easy way, they have to talk to me about it,” Paul added.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected Paul’s complaints. A spokesman for Pelosi told Politico that the two bills “only differ with respect to the title and House resolution number.”
“It’s unfortunate that procedural issues are being used to delay the passage of historic legislation,” he said. “The House of Representatives has passed numerous anti-lynching bills. Unfortunately, the Senate again stands in the way of enactment.”
Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, argued that it was the House which had actually held up the legislation.
“To be frank, I think they wanted their fingerprints on it. They want it to be a House bill,” he told the National Journal. “So they changed the title and kept every other syllable, sentence, letter in it…. We got it passed twice. Now, we have to do it again. I think we would have been better off just keeping it as it was and sending it to the president’s desk so we could get it done immediately. I hope that doesn’t disrupt it.”
Paul’s objection comes after Congress failed to pass anti-lynching legislation 200 times since 1992.
“This has been decades in the making, and it is remarkable that we have gone this long in our country without declaring lynching a federal crime,” Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the National Journal. “And today’s communities continue to wrestle with racial violence in many forms.”
“The fact there may be one man who prevented her from seeing that bill signed into law is very unsettling,” she added.
Rush questioned Paul’s motives in an interview with the outlet.
“The only conclusion I can draw from Sen. Paul’s sudden opposition to the bill is that he has an issue with the law being named after Emmett Till, which would be utterly shameful to say the least,” he said. “In the face of the recent lynchings that have taken the lives of Ahmaud Arbery and others, it defies reason that anyone would be opposed to swiftly enacting this critically needed legislation.”