Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has held up passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, a federal law against lynching that already has bipartisan support. The bill already passed the House back in February and was expected to quickly go through the Senate by unanimous consent until Paul objected, leading to an impassioned debate in the Senate chamber Thursday. Paul later defended his actions, insisting he is not blocking it, but instead wants to "strengthen" it.
The bill is named after Till, the black teenager who was kidnapped and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. The House version passed on Feb. 26 with a 410-4 vote, and the previous Senate version, called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, was already passed by unanimous consent twice. However, the new House version still has to pass the Senate before going to President Donald Trump's desk.
Paul has objected to this new version, demanding a narrower definition of lynching. In an op-ed for the Courier-Journal, Paul wrote he could not support a bill with "such a low threshold on what could be considered a lynching," adding, "My immediate concern was the unintended consequence of making victims out of the very people we seek to protect." Paul's office also said in a statement last week that the bill as it stands now will "allow altercations resulting in a cut, abrasion, bruise, or any other injury no matter how temporary to be subject to a 10-year penalty" and his proposed amendment "would simply apply a serious bodily injury standard, which would ensure crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain be prosecuted as a lynching."
On Thursday, which was the same day as George Floyd's memorial in Minneapolis, Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker blocked Paul's amendments. They argued the changes would only make it harder to prosecute lynchings, reports The Hill. Harris said "the idea that we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult" to herself, Booker and Sen. Tim Scott, the only three black Senators.
Harris appeared on The View Monday, where she said an anti-lynching measure was also built into the police reforms Congressional Democrats unveiled. The California Democrat once again called Paul's hold-up "insulting" and pointed out that Congress has been trying to pass a federal anti-lynching law for a century. "What Rand Paul is doing, which is one man holding up what would be a historic bill recognizing one of the great sins of America — and it was on the day of George Floyd's funeral which just added insult to injury and frankly made it so painful that on that day that's what was happening," Harris said.