Legislation & Lobbying

Lawyers react to federal anti-lynching law named after Emmett Till

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Emmett Till

Emmett Till. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

President Joe Biden signed a bill into law Tuesday making lynching a federal hate crime—a move that drew praise from legal groups and lawyers.

Speaking from the Rose Garden of the White House, Biden said the anti-lynching bill was the culmination of decades of failed efforts to pass a similar law. The bill was named after Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was brutally murdered and mutilated while visiting Mississippi in 1955.

For decades, Black people had been lynched while trying to vote or attend school or church, Biden said.

“Lynching was a pure terror to enforce the lie not everyone belongs in America and not everyone is created equal,” Biden said.

At its annual meeting in 2020, the ABA passed a resolution supporting the passing of the bill or similar legislation that would make lynching a hate crime.

An ABA report published before the resolution passed said more than 4,700 people had been lynched in America between 1882 and 1968, the overwhelming majority of them African Americans. Though efforts to pass legislation began in the first part of the last century, the federal government had never enacted any laws—until now.

Voicing support for the resolution at the 2020 annual meeting, attorney Laura Farber of the Pasadena, California law firm Hahn & Hahn said action by the ABA was long overdue.

After Biden signed the bill, Farber said that she did “not understand how something so important and crucial, given the history of racial violence experienced by Black Americans which persists through today, could have taken this long to pass.”

“I am pleased that the ABA adopted a resolution supporting this crucial legislation, and that our Congress and the president came together to pass this law. I look forward to the time when the enforcement of this law will no longer be necessary,” Farber wrote in an emailed statement to the ABA Journal.

The new law makes lynching an offense that is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called the law “historic.”

“Our country has deep racial wounds, and this legislation is the first step in addressing them,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the group, in a statement. “Now, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act sends an important message of its own—that those who engage in racist violence will be held fully accountable.”

Lawyer Janai S. Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said it was a “long-overdue bill,” and it sent “a clear message that the U.S. government is committed to deterring this pernicious form of targeted violence.”

“We are also grateful for the unflinching courage of Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother, who forced this country to confront with the evil of lynching by sharing her grief and her son’s suffering with the world by choosing an open-casket funeral,” Nelson said.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed the bill, called the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, unopposed.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina were among the lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill, which passed the House in February. Vice President Kamala Harris also sponsored the bill when she was still a senator, according to the Associated Press.

The New York Times and the Washington Post also have coverage. CBS News posted a video of Biden’s speech.

Updated April 1 at 10:15 a.m. to include Laura Farber’s statement to the Journal.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Citing new information, feds reopen probe of Emmett Till’s murder”

ABAJournal.com: “Weekly Briefs: Emmett Till probe closed; Black couple’s suit says appraisal changed with pretend white homeowner”

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