The Senate voted to make lynching a federal crime Wednesday, 153 years after the end of the Civil War. The bill, passed by unanimous consent, was sponsored by a bipartisan trio of black lawmakers: Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and Republican Sen. Tim Scott.
The measure insures that lynching would have an enhanced sentence, like other federal hate crimes. The crime could trigger a sentence of up to life in prison. Harris pointed out that Congress has previously tried to pass anti-lynching legislation over 200 times. While the House has passed anti-lynching bills in the past, Southern senators blocked the bills introduced in the Senate. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for its failureto pass anti-lynching legislation in the past.
“This has been a long arc, a painful history and a shameful history in this body,” Booker said on the Senate floor. Booker and Harris are both considered potential presidential candidates in 2020. When Harris took the Senate floor to call for a vote on the bill, she thanked Booker for his work on the bill as her colleague and friend.
The bill is a triumph for civil rights, but too late for thousands of lynching victims. According to the NAACP, 3,446 black people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, accounting for 73 percent of lynchings in that period. Black Americans were disproportionately lynched after the Civil War and after the end of slavery, particularly in Southern states.
Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith presided over the vote on the anti-lynching bill. Hyde-Smith, a Republican, attracted controversy in October for saying on the campaign trail that she would sit in the front row of a “public hanging” with a certain supporter. Mississippi had the most lynching victims of any state, according to NAACP, with 581. Hyde-Smith won re-election in November.
It is unclear whether the House will vote on the bill and send it to President Trump’s desk before the Christmas recess.