Steve Chapman almost gets it. A constitutional federal hate crimes bill can only target a minuscule number of "hate crimes" that are related to interstate commerce:

For all its grand intentions, the bill doesn't really do much at all. Supporters would like to make every hate crime a federal offense. But they can't. And the ones they can outlaw are so few and far between that it's hard to see why they bother...

The provision in question snares only those crimes in which someone crosses state lines, uses "a channel, facility or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce," or uses a weapon that has traveled across state or international boundaries.

What's the relevance to the murder of Matthew Shepard, or to most of the other attacks on gays? None whatsoever. You might think it's better to do nothing than to do something irrelevant. But for a lot of senators, there's no gesture like an empty gesture.

And when you realize that the Shepard case was nothing like the incident the interest groups made it out to be, the pointlessness of this exercise is overwhelming. Except it isn't, of course. The primary point of such a federal bill is to raise funds for a federal interest group like the Human Rights Campaign. It's a perfect fundraising vehicle because it is emotionally visceral, can be framed as a simple case of "are you for beating gay people to death or not?", and gives HRC a slim reed of legislative achievement to sell to its trillions of members and donors by direct mail. It's about the money. Period.

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