Hate Crime Law Ruled Constitutional

Hate Crime Law Ruled Constitutional

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(Salt Lake City-AP) -- A federal judge has ruled that Utah's disputed 1992 hate-crimes law is constitutional, but the attorney who defended it says it's misnamed.

As the first definitive decision on the legality of the 1992 law, U-S District Judge Dale A. Kimball's order isn't likely to end criticism that the statute does not do what it was intended to do -- prevent hate crimes.

Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen successfully defended the eleven-year-old law.

But he says it should be called the "Exercise of Rights" law.

Kimball's ruling comes out of a civil-rights case brought by an animal-rights activist charged under the law nearly three years ago. Eric Ward challenged the constitutionality of the statute, claiming it violated his First Amendment rights to free expression.

Kimball tossed out Ward's argument that the law was too broad to sustain a conviction because it failed to enumerate specific classifications of protected people.

Proponents of a more specific law, including deceased state Senator Pete Suazo and Representative David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, have tried unsuccessfully for six years to pass one through the Utah Legislature.

The most recent proposal, brought by Litvack in the 2003 legislative session, would have amended the statute to include race, color, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age or gender. The measure never made it out of the House of Representatives.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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