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Public Statements

Defense Authorization

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION -- (Senate - July 24, 2009)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I commend the Senate for including the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and I am optimistic that at long last, our 12-year effort to enact this legislation into law is finally reaching fruition.

Hate crimes are acts of domestic terrorism. Like all terrorist acts, hate crimes are intended to strike fear into whole communities by crimes against a few. We have committed ourselves to protecting our country from terrorists who strike from abroad, and now we have committed ourselves to protecting Americans from hate-motivated crimes in our own backyards.

That is why 63 Senators from both sides of the aisle voted to include the
Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The House of Representatives already approved a very similar measure with strong bipartisan support earlier this year. The Matthew Shepard Act strengthens the ability of the Federal Government to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. It removes excessive restrictions in current Federal law that prevent effective hate crimes prosecutions. And it offers Federal assistance to State and local authorities in preventing, investigating, and prosecuting despicable crimes.

I am proud that President Obama is a strong supporter of this bipartisan legislation along with Attorney General Eric Holder. The Attorney General has been with us from the beginning of our efforts to get this done, and it is significant that swift enactment of this legislation would ensure that the measure is implemented under his impressive guidance.

The Attorney General's leadership at the Justice Department is launching a new era of civil rights enforcement. In recent months, we have worked with the Justice Department to improve the Senate-approved hate crimes bill so that it addresses hate crimes in the most effective and meaningful way, and I appreciate the time and expertise of so many at the Department on this matter, especially Mark Kappelhoff, Ron Weich, and Judy Appelbaum. In addition, I must thank the Justice Department for diligently working to provide its recent views letter which concludes that the Matthew Shepard Act would be ``wholly constitutional.''

Passage of the amendment would not have been possible without the skill and dedication of many in the Senate. I commend Majority Leader Reid for his leadership and commitment to seeing that the amendment was passed before the August recess. In addition, I commend Serena Hoy of the majority leader's staff for her constant attention to the issue.

I also especially commend Senator Levin for working so hard with me on this measure for so many years, and Rick Debobes and Kaye Meier of his staff for their tireless work on the Senate floor. I am also very grateful for the support and leadership of Senator Leahy and his excellent staff, including Ed Pagano, Bruce Cohen, Kristine Lucius, Noah Bookbinder, and Roscoe Jones.

I appreciate as well the hard work of Senator Durbin and his staffer Mike Zubrensky, as well as Senator Collins and her staff, including Rob Epplin, Amanda Wood, and Nikki McKinney. I also thank Judiciary Committee staffers Lara Flint and Danyelle Solomon, as well as Mike Jones on the Budget Committee, for their contributions as well. I also appreciate the expert and patient assistance of John Henderson and Bill Jensen in the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the Senate.

As is the case with many challenging issues before the Senate, passage of the Matthew Shepard Act would have not been possible without the effective support of the Democratic cloakroom, especially Lula Davis.

Finally, I commend the outstanding work of so many in my own office, including Carey Parker, Christine Leonard, Ty Cobb, and Sara Kingsley--as well as Bethany Bassett, Jorie Feldman, Joe Barresi, Colin Taylor, and Jamie Susskind, who helped us get through the final stretch. For over a decade, we have been working to see this measure become law, and we certainly wouldn't be where we are today without the contributions of so many dedicated and determined staffers along the way.

Inclusion of the Matthew Shepard Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act sends a strong signal that just as our Nation is concerned about terroristic acts abroad, it is also dedicated to eliminating homegrown terrorism against our Nation's own communities. We will be a stronger and better nation in the years ahead, once our laws recognize that bias-motivated violence has no place in the United States.


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