United States v. Hatch (2013)
Court: Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Whether Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to federalize bias crimes.
In 2009, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). The HCPA provides that, “Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or … attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person” may be subject to criminal punishment. Congress claimed the act was constitutional under Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment, citing the authority to legislate against the “badges and incidents” of slavery. Because acts of racially motivated violence are deemed a badge or incident of slavery, the Supreme Court ruled that the Thirteenth Amendment gives the Federal Government the authority to regulate bias crimes. This authority has historically been held by the states.
In April of 2010 William Hatch, Jesse Sanford, and Paul Beebe assaulted a mentally disabled Navajo man. The crimes committed included drawing, shaving, and branding racially charged and profane images on the man. In response to the crime, New Mexico charged the three individuals “under state law with kidnaping, aggravated battery, and conspiracy to commit both of these crimes.” The Federal Government then got involved and, “Six months later—while the state prosecution was still pending—the federal government charged Beebe, Sanford, and Hatch with violating (and conspiracy to violate) 18 U.S.C. § 249 [the HCPA].” Thus the three individuals were charged for the same crime in both state and federal court. Hatch, Sanford, and Beebe filed a motion to dismiss the Federal Government’s charges, arguing that the HCPA was unconstitutional and that the Thirteenth Amendment did not give the Federal Government the power to convict them.
The Court Below
The District Court for the District of New Mexico was the first court to hear the case. The court ruled in favor of the United States, holding that the HCPA was valid under the Thirteenth Amendment on the grounds that HCPA, in the court’s opinion, does not impermissibly encroach on state’s rights. See opinion below:
United States v. Beebe, 807 F.Supp2d 1045 (D.N.M, 2011)
Hatch, Beebe, and another individual appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals following the district court’s ruling against them. The court upheld the ruling of the district court, holding that the HCPA is valid under the Thirteenth Amendment and federal prosecutors could begin the federal prosecution while the state’s prosecution is still pending. See opinion below:
United States v. Hatch, 722 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir., 2013)
The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear the case without comment. See opinion below:
Hatch v. U.S., 134 S.Ct. 1538 (U.S., 2014)
Question before the Court
“The sole question before us is whether the portion of the Hate Crimes Act under which Hatch was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1), is a constitutional exercise of Congress's power to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment.”
CCJ affiliate Anthony T. Caso filed an amicus curiae brief along with Members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights in support of Hatch
Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." During reconstruction, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to give the Federal Government the power to prohibit slavery; Congress did not intend to grant the Federal Government the broad power to remedy all social ills that might be traced back to slavery. Throughout the first hundred years after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, the courts used the term “badges and incidents” solely in the context of dismantling actual slavery. In Hatch, the courts strayed from historical interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The new interpretation gave the Federal Government the power to regulate the “badges and incidents” of slavery even if the incidents were completely removed from the threat of slavery.
The intended purpose of Section 249 of the HCPA was to remedy a social ill connected indirectly to slavery, thus it was unconstitutional under the Thirteenth Amendment. The HCPA stated that “eliminating racially motivated violence is an important means of eliminating, to the extent possible, the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery and involuntary servitude.” Under the new interpretation of the Thirteen Amendment, the Federal Government now had the authority to legislate and regulate any act of bias based upon race, a power never granted to it by the Thirteenth Amendment. Regulating acts of bias would be justified if in response to a threat of slavery’s return, but because that threat is all but non-existent, prosecuting crimes because of bias involved would inevitably lead to double jeopardy, as these crimes would already have been prosecuted by the states.
The Tenth Circuit Court used the case Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer & Co. (1968) in order to justify its decision, but the case was misapplied and does not authorize Congress to promulgate the HCPA. In Jones the Court claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was constitutional due to Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment. Jones held that Section 2 gave Congress the power to ban discrimination by race in the market place because discrimination by race was a badge or incident of slavery. Yet Jones was a response to an 1866 law, and was clearly tied to ending slavery. Because the HCPA was completely removed from the goal of terminating slavery, the decision in Jones did not apply to the case at hand. If Congress had the power to uproot what it believed to be any badge or incident of slavery apart from the purpose of ending slavery, then it would also have the power to uproot what it regards as badges and incidents of female disfranchisement (Nineteenth Amendment), poll taxes (Twenty-Fourth Amendment), and disfranchisement of eighteen year olds (Twenty-Sixth *21 Amendment), because the wording in all of the stated amendments would imply the same meaning. This interpretation would give Congress virtually unlimited police power within the states.
The Tenth Circuit Court agreed that the case brought up important federalism questions, but failed to address said questions, stating that “it would be up to the Supreme Court” to decide the issues involving federalism. Yet the federalism question was of serious concern and needed to be addressed. The court’s decision gave Congress a general police power over all conduct regarding race. Under the lower court’s holding, Congress was given the authority to decide what might “rationally be considered to resemble an incident of slavery.” If it considered an action to resemble an incident of slavery, then it would have complete authority to press charges against the actor, even though the state government would be pressing charges and exacting justice for the same crimes. This would be a direct violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The Supreme Court declined to grant Certiorari when Hatch appealed. Thus the decision of the Tenth Circuit Court, in opposition to CCJ’s argument, was upheld. The circuit court held that the Thirteenth Amendment did give the Federal Government the authority to regulate bias crimes.