The United States Senate cleared legislation that could finally make lynching a federal crime for the first time in the nation’s history.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the bipartisan bill that aims to make lynching punishable under federal hate crime laws.
The federal law they hope to amend, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
Last December, the senators successfully passed a similar bill in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, but it failed to clear the House before the end of the 115th Congress.
Booker spoke on the floor about the importance of the anti-lynching legislation and referenced actor Jussie Smollet, hours after the actor was on Good Morning America. The openly gay star was the victim of an alleged hate crime last month where a rope was put around his neck by two white men, according to local police reports.
"Justice for the victims of lynching has been too long denied and as we look forward we must collectively in this body make a strong, unequivocal statement," the senator, who is running for U.S. president in the 2020 cycle, stated.
Harris, who has also pointed to Smollett’s attack as evidence to why their bill should become law, echoed these sentiments.
"We must confront hate in our country... We are now making clear there will be serious, swift and severe consequences," the senator, who is also a presidential hopeful, said on the floor.
Congress has attempted to pass anti-lynching legislation over 200 times since 1918, according to Harris. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing to victims of lynching.
The measure will now head to the Democrat-controlled House and is expected to pass.