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.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
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."