U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, was among four U.S. House members who voted against a bill Wednesday that would make lynching a federal hate crime. But his opposition centered on the bill’s maximum 10-year prison sentence, which “almost trivializes such a heinous offense,” he said in a statement.
The measure — dubbed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act — drew broad bipartisan support, passing in an overwhelming 401-4 vote. Another version of the measure passed the U.S. Senate last year with broad support; the Senate will need to approve the House-passed version before it can go to the White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.
Gohmert, widely known around the Capitol as the most rabble-rousing Texan serving in Congress, told the Houston Chronicle he has “trouble with the federal nexus of lynching” and said the bill’s maximum sentence “sends entirely the wrong message about how serious this is.”
“This is an outrageously low maximum sentence for such an odious crime,” he said in a statement that also noted the same crime can prompt a death sentence under state law in Texas.
Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Gohmert this year, condemned the vote.
“When I saw this vote come across, I could not believe it,” Gilbert said in a statement. “I had to look at the calendar and see if it was 2020 or 1920 when I saw that vote. It is unconscionable that a sitting congressman would not vote to make lynching a federal crime.”
Congress has tried for more than 100 years to pass a measure that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The measure is named after Emmett Till, who was brutally beaten and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman. He was 14 years old at the time.
Six Texas Democrats co-sponsored the House bill: U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Al Green of Houston, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth.
“I was honored to cast a ‘yes’ vote for the long overdue #EmmettTill Antilynching Act,” Vela tweeted. “It has been over 100 years since this legislation was first introduced and that is over 100 years too long. I am proud to be a part of passing a bill that corrects this grave injustice.”
Jackson Lee, who previously spearheaded a resolution to establish a commission to examine reparations for African Americans over slavery, said on the House floor that the Emmett Till Antilynching Act is “an important standard and statement.”