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AG Holder calls for stricter hate crime laws after recent violence

[JURIST] US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] on Tuesday called for stricter federal hate crime laws [transcript], maintaining that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is committed to working with Congress to pass such legislation. Addressing the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs [advocacy website], Holder cited recent crimes that took the lives of a soldier in Arkansas, abortion doctor George Tiller [BBC profile], and a guard at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum [website] as reminders of the "potential threat posed by violent extremists." Holder stated that one of his top priorities is to ensure the continuance of the DOJ Civil Rights Division [official website] to protect the ideals of equal protection that are "enshrined so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence and the Fourteenth Amendment." Additionally, Holder maintained that important progress has been made in the division since President Barack Obama took office, including a reinvigoration of its amicus practice. Holder addressed the DOJ's commitment to combating hate crime violence, stating:

We will not tolerate murder, or the threat of violence, masquerading as political activism. So let me be clear, the Justice Department will use every tool at its disposal to protect the rights ensured under our constitution. And we will do all that we can to deter violence against reproductive health care providers and to prosecute those who commit such violence to the fullest extent of the law. ... The violence we have seen during the last month may seem daunting to some. But I view these tragedies as a call to action. ... Let us commit ourselves – regardless of party affiliation or political viewpoint – to the difficult work ahead: building an America in which the kind of violence we have seen these last few weeks is but a distant memory. And building an America in which all of our Nation’s citizens, in equal measure, enjoy the fruits of our founding documents.

Holder mentioned the recent House of Representatives [official website] approval [JURIST report] of the Federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 [HR 1913 text], which broadens the definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation, gender identity and disabilities. The proposed legislation seeks to expand current legislation which only covers crimes based on race, religion or national origin.

Earlier this month, Holder maintained that the DOJ would take appropriate steps [JURIST report] to help prevent acts of violence related to the shooting of George Tiller, enlisting the US Marshal Service [official website] to offer protection to other at-risk people and facilities. In 2007, the House approved [JURIST report] a similar hate crimes bill [text, PDF; HR 1592 summary], and the US Senate also passed [JURIST report] similar legislation in the form of an amendment to the 2008 Senate Defense Reauthorization Bill [HR 1585 materials]. However, the broadened language was ultimately removed [JURIST report] during House and Senate negotiations.

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