Senate Adopts Death Penalty Amendment To Hate Crimes Provision

July 21, 2009 12:00 am

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Expansion Of Federal Death Penalty Counter To Furthering Civil Rights, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate yesterday passed an amendment extending the death penalty for certain hate crimes. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), was added to the hate crimes amendment to the Defense authorization bill that passed last Thursday. In a letter sent to Senators, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to oppose this misguided and wrong expansion of the federal death penalty.

“The expansion of the federal death penalty stands in stark contrast to furthering the cause of civil rights in the United States,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “The death penalty is always wrong. Capital punishment has been proven to be such an expensive and discriminatory punishment that Congress should oppose any effort to expand its scope and reach. At a time when evidence is mounting that scores of innocent defendants have been sentenced to death, Congress should steer clear of expanding the death penalty.”

Problems, such as inadequate defense counsel and racial disparities, have always plagued the death penalty system in the United States. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 135 innocent people have been exonerated from death row since 1973, including five so far in 2009 alone.

In addition to this death penalty amendment, the ACLU also did not support the underlying hate crime provision in the defense authorization bill which would have a chilling effect on free speech and association. The U.S. House of Representatives has a welcome version of the hate crimes bill that protects speech and association as well as gives the federal government new authority to prosecute certain violent acts based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

The ACLU letter to Senators is available at:

For a copy of a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to Senators, go to:

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