The recent conviction of Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. in the Amish hair-cutting case raises renewed questions over the ever-expanding claims of federal jurisdiction. Mullet was given 15 years in prison for federal hate crimes. In order to do so, however, the Obama Administration had to establish federal jurisdiction. They did so by building the case around the “Wahl battery-operated hair clippers” used to cut the beards of Amish men and insisted that federal jurisdiction followed the clippers which crossed state borders in their manufacturing and sale. The superseding indictment is linked below.
Mullet was convicted in September of organizing a series of raids in 2011 against religious enemies and disobedient family members. This was an intra-Amish dispute in which the men’s beards were forcibly sheared and women’s hair was cut. I have no problem at all with criminal prosecution for assault and other state offenses. However, the Justice Department insisted on getting involved as a hate crime. The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act requires “an instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce.” So, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, of the Northern District of Ohio, argued that the clippers used in the assaults “were purchased at Walmart and had travelled in and affected interstate commerce in that they were manufactured in Dover, Delaware.” The federal court accepted the argument which would render any limits on federal power meaningless for the purposes of federalizing what are state crimes.
In addition to Mullett, fifteen other Amish members were sentenced to prison terms of two to seven years.
The case could get more attention due to the role of Obama’s nominee for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez, in the case in his capacity as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Since virtually all products travel across state borders, this theory gives federal hate crimes universal application. It further allows federal prosecutors to retry state defendants for essentially the same alleged acts by redefining the acts as hate crimes as opposed to assaults. It is a test of federal jurisdiction that cannot fail.
Here is the superseding indictment: 120328052727_Superseding Indictment filed