Oral Argument in Amish Hair Cutters Case

A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in Miller v. United States.  An Amish woman named Kathryn Miller, represented by CIR, and other Amish defendants were appealing their convictions under the federal hate crimes act for cutting the beards and hair of other Amish as part of an intra-faith religious dispute.

Despite the fact that the events all took place in Ohio and had no commercial significance, the government continued to press its theory that because the defendants traveled to the sites of the attacks in hired cars, and used scissors and hair clippers that had once traveled in interstate commerce, the federal government had jurisdiction over their acts under the Commerce Clause.  The defendants retorted that if that theory were correct, the federal government would have the power to regulate any activity, no matter how local and non-commercial, of any person.

The judges seemed more interested in another argument the defendants made: that the trial judge erred by failing to instruct the jury that the government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants’ acts would not have taken place absent the defendants’ religious motivation.  If the Court overturns the convictions on that basis, there will probably be a remand and a new trial.