"On October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, as Division E of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (P.L. 111-84; H.R. 2647). This law broadens federal jurisdiction over hate crimes by authorizing the Attorney General to provide assistance, when requested by a state, local, or tribal official, for crimes that (1) would constitute a violent crime under federal law or a felony under state or tribal law, and (2) are motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In other words, hate crimes are traditional crimes during which the offender is motivated by one or more biases considered to be particularly reprehensible and damaging to society as a whole. Prior to enactment, however, hate crimes were not separate and distinct offenses under federal law. Furthermore, federal jurisdiction over hate crime was limited to certain civil rights offenses. Although there is a consensus that hate crime is deplorable, determining the definitive federal role in addressing hate crime has proved contentious, as reflected in the legislative history and congressional debate. Legislation to widen federal jurisdiction over hate crime was passed by the Senate in the 106th and 108th Congresses, by the House in the 109th Congress, and by both chambers in the 110th Congress. Opponents of hate crime legislation view separate federal offenses for hate crime as redundant and largely symbolic, arguing that separate hate crime offenses would be in addition to the legal prohibitions for traditional crime that already exist under either federal or state law."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33403