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When Congress may regulate an economic or commercial activity, it also may regulate violent conduct that interferes with or affects that activity. Hence, if individuals are engaged in ongoing economic or commercial activity subject to congressional regulation, then Congress also may prohibit violent crime that interferes with or affects such individuals' ongoing economic or commercial activity, including the type of bias-motivated assaults proscribed by the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
Defendant James Hill, III ("Defendant") admitted to physically and violently assaulting a coworker preparing packages for interstate sale and shipment because of the coworker's sexual orientation. The Commonwealth of Virginia initially charged Defendant with misdemeanor assault and battery in state court, but the state prosecutor subsequently requested that the United States "assume prosecution of this case as a hate crime" under the Hate Crimes Act, in part because Virginia's hate crime statute did not cover crimes based on sexual orientation. The United States Attorney General certified that the defendant’s prosecution under the Hate Crimes Act was in the public interest. After a jury convicted defendant for violating the Hate Crimes Act, the district court granted defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on grounds that the Hate Crimes Act, as applied to defendant's conduct, exceeded Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause. The Government timely appealed the district court's judgment of acquittal.
May the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2), be constitutionally applied to an unarmed assault of a victim engaged in commercial activity at his place of work?
The Court held that as applied to defendant's conduct, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 easily fell under Congress's broad authority to regulate interstate commerce where the victim was assaulted while preparing packages for interstate sale and shipment, which was unquestionably an ongoing economic or commercial activity subject to congressional regulation. That defendant's assault of the victim may have minimally impacted the delivery service's business, and interstate commerce generally, did not render defendant's prosecution unconstitutional. The Court held that defendant's prosecution complied with the Commerce Clause because, inter alia, his assault of the victim interfered with ongoing commercial activity, and compliance with the Commerce Clause did not turn on whether the act proscribed by the statute or defendant's motivation was economic or non-economic. Accordingly, the judgment of acquittal reversed, and the case was remanded for reinstatement of the jury's guilty verdict.