Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, came under fire from his Democrat opponent and community leaders Wednesday when he voted against a bill that made lynching a federal hate crime.
Gohmert was one of only four members of Congress to vote against the bill, which was passed 410 to 4. The Senate unanimously passed a virtually-identical legislation last year, although that bill wasn’t named for Emmett Till. It is expected to be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.
The House bill was unanimously supported by Democrats. Three Republicans — Gohmert of Tyler, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ted Yoho of Florida — opposed the bill, along with independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.
Gohmert said he supported the bill’s concept, but preferred that those accused of lynching in Texas be tried in state court, where they could face the death penalty.
“Lynching is one of the most heinous forms of murder. It absolutely deserves to be treated as a capital crime, and those who directly participate in lynching should rightly be subjected to a harsh penalty,” Gohmert said in a statement. “However, H.R. 35 makes conspiring to commit civil rights violations a federal crime without a proper nexus. Moreover, the maximum prison sentence allotted in the bill is 10 years. This is an outrageously low maximum sentence for such an odious crime. It almost trivializes such a heinous offense.”
Hank Gilbert, who is running as a Democrat to unseat Gohmert in November, said in a news release he was appalled by Gohmert’s reasoning and vote. Gohmert is also being challenged by Johnathan Kyle Davidson, of Saginaw, for the Republican nomination in the March 3 primary election.
“When I saw this vote come across, I could not believe it,” Gilbert said. “It is unconscionable that a sitting congressman would not vote to make lynching a federal crime.”
Gilbert’s office also sent over statements from numerous community leaders, pastors and the Texas Coalition of Black Voters. Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said, in the news release, that Gohmert should have voted for the legislation.
“I am shocked that our Congressman would vote against making lynching a federal crime,” Hampton said. “Lynching should be a federal hate crime. While there may only be a 10-year penalty in the federal legislation, we must start somewhere. We have been trying to pass this bill in this country for 100 years.”
Former Tyler City Councilman Pastor Ralph Caraway said Gohmert’s vote wasn’t in touch with current views. Caraway served on the city council from 2007 to 2013. He is the pastor of St. Louis Baptist Church.
“In this day and time when we talk about togetherness, it is sad we would still vote against legislation that makes what is essentially a human rights violation a federal crime,” Caraway said. “After over 400 lynchings in Texas from 1885 to 1942, we should be at the point where lynching is universally condemned in our society.”
Gohmert said previous versions of the bill had much stronger language, but the one brought to the floor for a vote contained “diluted language that does not provide a proper avenue for punishment.”
“Such a hateful crime deserves a severe sentence, and I could not in good conscience vote on a bill that addresses lynching on such a low level,” he said. “I commend Congressman Bobby Rush for the work he has done and the injustices he continues to fight, which I personally conveyed to him on the House floor. My personal statement publicly on the House floor can also be viewed giving more detail.”