The Importance of Being Biased

The war against bias crimes is far from finished. In contrast, the battle over bias-crime laws is largely over. Bias-crime laws, as commonly formulated, increase the penalties for crimes motivated by bias. The Supreme Court has held that such laws do not violate the First Amendment. Virtually every state has enacted some sort of biascrime law. Even the federal government, which may consider itself without power to enact a general bias-crime law, has made bias a sentence-aggravating factor for the range of federal criminal offenses. Bias-crime laws thus are an established feature of the legal landscape. Against this background, Frederick Lawrence has written Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law. Punishing Hate is not a work of radical vision. It blazes no new trails in its method or its conclusions. Rather, it is a careful reconstruction of reasons and arguments underlying the current consensus approval of bias-crime laws. Accepting that bias should matter for the criminal law, it implies a better theory is needed of why bias should matter, and seeks to provide that theory.