But it's not a stretch to say that hate crime laws, by their very nature, punish people for their opinions. A mugger who robs a Jew because he's well-dressed is punished less severely than a mugger who robs a Jew based on the belief that Jews get their money only by cheating Christians. A thug who beats an old lady in a wheelchair just for fun is punished less severely than a thug who does so because he believes disabled people are leeches.Hey, how novel; relying upon existing laws . . . but don't let that stop congress.
The rationale for such unequal treatment is that crimes motivated by bigotry do more damage than otherwise identical crimes with different motivations because of the fear they foster. Yet random attacks arguably generate more fear, and hate crimes cause anxiety in the targeted group only when they're publicized as such. In any case, judges can take a crime's impact into account at sentencing.
In federalizing bias-motivated crimes—potentially including every heterosexual rape, a crime that arguably is always committed "because of" the victim's gender—Congress claims to be exercising its authority to regulate interstate commerce. But the connection can be as tenuous as a weapon that has crossed state lines, interference with the victim's "economic activity," or anything else that "affects interstate or foreign commerce."
When you criminalize intentions, you are politicizing thoughts. Clobbering someone who's Hispanic is no worse than clobbering someone who's Irish. Just because more Hispanics might be in the district of an elected official does not mean they get treated differently under the law.