Criminal laws that punish discriminatory offenses relating to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and other status characteristics trace their roots back to the nation's founding. Unlike today, in early America, status distinctions in law, particularly racial ones, were intended to restrict the exercise of civil rights. Today's hate crime laws are the refined modern progeny of an important class of remedial post-Civil War laws and constitutional amendments. Although the Supreme Court has vigorously upheld enhanced punishment for hate crimes over the last decade, it has also established restrictions on the government's authority to punish bigoted conduct and expression. This article examines, through an analysis of historic cases, laws, and constitutional changes, the legal evolution that culminated in the passage of modern hate crime laws.

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