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House passes anti-lynching bill, but the vote wasn’t unanimous

After roughly 200 attempts, Congress is poised to pass anti-lynching legislation. But why isn’t support for the bill unanimous?


Over the last several decades, there have been roughly 200 attempts in Congress to approve anti-lynching legislation. Each failed.

In late 2018, the Senate finally passed a bipartisan measure, but the Republican-led House didn’t advance it before the end of the 115th Congress. Two years later, an anti-lynching bill came very close, but Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky played a key role in derailing the effort.

Proponents believe they might finally succeed this year. The New York Times reported overnight:

The House on Monday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime, moving to formally outlaw a brutal act that has become a symbol of the failure by Congress and the country to reckon with the history of racial violence in America. Passage of the anti-lynching bill, named in honor of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black teenager brutally tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955, came after more than a century of failed attempts.

The vote was lopsided: The Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed with 422 votes. And while that was encouraging, the support was not unanimous: Three House Republicans — Georgia’s Andrew Clyde, Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, and Texas’ Chip Roy — voted against it.

The trio knew the measure was going to pass anyway, but they apparently wanted to go on the record in opposition to the legislation that designates lynching as a hate crime under federal law, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

At this point, cynics might be forgiven for feeling some skepticism about the road ahead. After all, a similar bill passed the House two years ago by a margin of 410 to 4, and it failed in the Senate anyway. Will this year be any different?

Probably. Two years ago, after Kentucky’s Paul blocked an anti-lynching bill, GOP leaders — in the majority at the time — could’ve invested some time and energy into passing it anyway, but they didn’t.

In 2022, it’s a different story. Paul now says the legislation has been tweaked to his satisfaction, and it’s expected to pass the Senate unanimously. If some member ends up balking, Democratic leaders will make sure it receives an up-or-down floor vote anyway.

It’s also slated to be the latest in a series of popular measures to clear Congress with bipartisan support.

As for the historical context, a Washington Post report added, “The House’s earliest attempt to pass anti-lynching legislation came in 1900, when Rep. George Henry White (R-N.C.), then the country’s only Black member of Congress, stood on the floor of the House and read the text of his unprecedented measure, which would have prosecuted lynchings at the federal level. The bill later died in committee.”

This year’s progress, in other words, is a long time coming.