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Erik Eckholm reports in the NYT:

Samuel Mullet Sr., the domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect, and 15 of his followers were convicted on Thursday in Cleveland of federal conspiracy and hate crimes for a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall that spread fear through the Amish of eastern Ohio.
A TV report from WKYC is here.

These assaults are certainly crimes, and given the religious significance of the beards the injury to the victims goes well beyond any physical injury, but why is this a federal case?

Person-on-person crime is generally a state-law matter.  The feds necessarily get involved when there is state action in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Criminal organizations that operate in multiple states and across international boundaries also warrant federal involvement, but there is none of that here.

Conspiracies to violate civil rights were made a federal crime in the Ku Klux Klan Act during Reconstruction.  The law was certainly necessary at that time, and it was necessary in the 1960s in some places where state and local governments dismally failed to provide the equal protection of the laws that the Fourteenth Amendment requires.

But in 2012 Ohio?  Against Amish defendants?  Do the Amish have local officials so cowed as to make local prosecution an inadequate remedy, as the Klan did in the Deep South 50 years ago?  Of course not.

Whether application of these laws in this case is constitutional or not, as a matter of policy it should have been left to the locals.

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