The bill was introduced by three black senators: Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C. Last December, the Senate passed the bill but the House did not act in time to send the measure to President Donald Trump’s desk, reports the AP.
This time around, the Democratic-led House is expected to advance the legislation with more time left in the congressional session, the report added.
Following the unanimous vote on Thursday, the bill would then head to the House before Trump can sign it into law.
Harris and Booker, two political rivals who are both running for the party’s 2020 nomination for president, were elated about the efforts they have made towards the bill.
Speaking Thursday morning on the Senate floor, Booker said that “lynching is not a relic of the past,” with emphasis on the attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago.
“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,” he added.
“We must confront hate in our country. … We are now making clear there will be serious, swift and severe consequences,” Harris said.
The bill, which was introduced earlier in 2018, indicates that at least 4,742 people were reported lynched between 1882 and 1968. It also added that most of the perpetrators were not punished.
“This is a historic piece of legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in America’s history,” said Senator Harris.
“We finally have a chance to speak the truth about our past and make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again without serious, severe and swift consequence and accountability.”
This will become the first anti-lynching legislation in a country where the practice has been used to target black people and white people who supported black people.
Despite these high numbers, attempts to have a Federal anti-lynching law were met with obstacle after obstacle. The first attempt to establish such a law was in the 1930s, according to the Washington Post. However, many senators of the time claimed that such laws would interfere with the rights of the states and others claimed that lynching was a way of controlling threats against white women and to promote segregation of the races.
In the 1960s, many Southern states opted to prevent lynching and prosecuted perpetrators when it occurred thanks largely to a threat of such a law, according to University of New Hampshire’s Harvard Sitkoff.
In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution for failing to enact an anti-lynching law but did not enact any legislation.
Under the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act 2018, if two or more people kill someone because of that person’s race or religion, they face life in prison if convicted. Causing bodily harm to an individual because of their race or religion will result to more than 10 years in prison and a fine.
Many have welcomed the move by the Senate to pass this necessary yet overdue legislation.