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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Court to Rule on Constitutionality of State Hate Crime Law

A Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge will rule next week on the constitutionality of the state's hate crime law, which enhances penalties for intentionally selecting the victim of a crime, "in whole or in part," on the basis of the victim's race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. The ruling will settle a case involving two white firefighters charged with a hate crime against a black man.

The attorneys for the firefighters argued in part:
[T]he state's current hate crime law "has never been addressed by an appellate court or the U.S. Supreme Court." [Also,] the law [is] overbroad.... [T]he law had a "chilling effect" on a person expressing their free speech. The law, as written, creates a "fear of being prosecuted...." [And,] under the current law, anyone who is in a bar fight in which insulting terms are being hurled back and forth could be charged with a hate crime.
On the other hand, the District Attorney argued in part:
[T]he U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Wisconsin's hate crime law [and that] the law is not about speech but about the actions of a person who selects a victim based on that person's race, sex or religion.

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