US v. Hill: Hill worked in an Amazon fulfillment center in Virginia along with Tibbs. One day in 2015, Hill attacked Tibbs without provocation, “repeatedly punching him in the face.” Hill told an investigator for Amazon and local police that he assaulted Tibbs because Tibbs was gay, that Tibbs “disrespected because he is a homosexual” and that he “does not like homosexuals, so I punched [Tibbs].” The assault required the shutdown of their area at the center for about 45 minutes, but “the performance of the fulfillment center as a whole during the shift in which the incident took place was in-line with its performance during other shifts.” Hill was initially charged in state court with misdemeanor assault, but the prosecutor asked the Government to take up the prosecution as a hate crime under federal law because Virginia’s hate crimes statute does not include sexual orientation.
The Government took the case and Hill was charged under 18 USC 249(a)(2) with causing bodily injury to Tibbs due to his sexual orientation and that “interfere[d] with commercial or other economic activity in which the victim [was] engaged at the time of the conduct.” Hill was convicted by a jury, but moved for a judgment of acquittal under Rule 29, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to him. The district court agreed, holding that in this case the application of the hate crimes statute exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause because it was not regulating activity that substantially affects interstate commerce.
A divided Fourth Circuit reversed. The court held that under the Supreme Court’s current Commerce Clause analysis the prosecution in this case did not exceed Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause. That is because the assault happened at work, in the context of commercial activity that clearly falls within the scope of the Commerce Clause. “Importantly,” the court held, “Congress may regulate violent conduct interfering with interstate commerce even when the conduct itself has a ‘minimal’ effect on such commerce,” analogizing to prosecutions for arson and under the Hobbs Act. In other words, it didn’t matter that Amazon’s operations weren’t impacted by the assault. The court also noted that unlike statutes the Supreme Court struck down in Morrison and Lopez, the statute here included a clear jurisdictional hook. The court rejected the argument that a conviction in this case would allow Congress to “regulate all workplace conduct” or that “it can intrude into private homes” because in this case the assault “interfered with ongoing commercial activity.” It’s decision “in no way usurps the State’s authority to regulate violent crimes – including hate crimes – unrelated to ongoing interstate commerce.”
Judge Agee dissented, arguing that the statute was not sufficiently limited to comply with the Commerce Clause.