Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation, already passed by the Senate and more than a century in the making, that would designate lynching as a federal crime. The vote was 410-4.
One of those four was East Texas' Louie Gohmert, a frequent subject of the Observer.
Gohmert has a history of opposing federal hate crime legislation. In the wake of the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart in August, he told Tyler NBC affiliate KETK that it "bothered" him when Congress passed the federal hate crimes law in 2009.
The 2009 law was inspired, in part, by the murder of James Byrd in Jasper, an East Texas town just south of Gohmert's district. Three white men kidnapped Byrd, who was black, in 1998. They then chained him to a pickup and dragged him for three miles.
Criminal punishment should be left to the states, Gohmert said.
"All of this screaming, 'Yeah, we need to punish them for hate crimes.' You know, that's just going to be something used to lock up preachers some day," Gohmert said.
Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Gohmert again brought up Byrd's murder, according to reporters in Washington, pointing out that two of his killers received the death penalty.
“I have trouble with the federal nexus with lynching,” he said.
Gohmert went on to say that the federal penalty created by the law wasn't harsh enough.
“I am someone who has looked two defendants in the eye and sentenced them to death,” Gohmert said, according to The Dallas Morning News' Todd Gillman. “It’s a very somber, serious thing to do but those crimes justified it… I couldn’t vote for this. A 10-year maximum when we’re talking about lynching?”
It's probably worth noting that federal hate crimes prosecutions don't necessarily occur in lieu of state prosecutions. In fact, that's one of the biggest good-faith arguments against the laws. Conservatives like Washington Post columnist George Will have complained that hate crimes legislation gives prosecutors another bite at the apple when "defendants who are acquitted in politically charged state trials, especially ones involving race or religion."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.