Injecting an element of thoughtcrime into the treatment of acts that were already serious felonies, such as assaults and vandalism, was always a dubious constitutional proposition. Many civil libertarians thought so when hate-crime laws were being debated, though not all were able to maintain the courage of their convictions.

A recent Pro Publica study found that Texas, which enacted a strong hate-crimes law in 2001, has had few successful prosecutions. Among the reasons: Proving motive is harder than proving the act itself; often the act alone carries a severe penalty; prosecutors worry that seeking a hate-crime enhancement would only complicate a straightforward case.

The future may add another caveat: Hate-crime charges have become debased in the public mind because of false accusations.