Maryland matters

Maryland legislature passes law tweaking state hate crimes commission

After an outcry over CAIR’s inclusion on the commission, the law now gives Maryland’s attorney general the power to select its members

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Zainab Chaudry speaks during a press conference at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., on February 16, 2015.

When the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill late Monday night that makes changes to the makeup of the state’s hate crimes commission, the legislation’s original intent — to remove the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) from participation on the commission — had been stripped out.

Kicking CAIR off the commission was the bill’s raison d’etre when it was introduced in January by Del. Dalya Attar, a Baltimore Democrat. It was a means of taking action against CAIR Maryland director Zainab Chaudry, a member of the hate crimes commission who had posted inflammatory pro-Hamas statements on social media in the weeks and months after the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel. 

But by the time the bill passed late on Monday, after a flurry of late-night phone calls and lobbying from Jewish constituents before the annual legislative session ended at midnight, it had been significantly changed; the watered-down version no longer mentioned removing CAIR. 

“Although we would have preferred the original version of the bill to alter the makeup of the commission to have passed, we understood the desire for various amendments to ensure that a wide variety of voices can be heard in the fight against all forms of hate,” said Meredith Weisel, the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington regional director and a member of the commission. 

Instead, the bill now gives Maryland’s attorney general the power to select the commission’s members, and to remove them if necessary, a provision incorporated after CAIR’s backers urged lawmakers not to target the group. (The only mandated members come from public agencies such as the public defender’s office.) All appointments will have to be approved by the state Senate. 

Attorney General Anthony Brown had temporarily removed Chaudry from the commission in November after her antisemitic posts were uncovered. But he was forced to reinstate Chaudry because he lacked the power to change the group’s membership. 

“We have not yet made any decisions regarding the new appointments,” a spokesperson for Brown told Jewish Insider on Tuesday. 

Attar told JI that she views the bill’s passage as a victory, and that she anticipates that no one from CAIR will sit on the commission once the bill is signed. (A spokesperson for Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, declined to say if he would sign the bill.)

“I was very clear about my intention for the bill — very, very, very clear — that the goal is to make sure CAIR is not on this commission,” Attar said. “By passing this legislation that had the intent of ensuring one thing and one thing only, that CAIR is no longer here, it was also sending a statement as it is.”

Chaudry is not the only CAIR official who has made controversial and occasionally antisemitic remarks in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. In December, the White House condemned the group after Nihad Awad, its co-founder and executive director, said he was “happy to see” the Oct. 7 attacks. The Biden administration pledged not to work with the group and not to include it in meetings about its efforts to develop a national strategy to counter Islamophobia. Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) canceled an appearance at a CAIR fundraiser in Pennsylvania after JI reported on antisemitic comments made by the event’s speakers. 

Last month, Chaudry celebrated the fact that the bill was amended so as not to mention CAIR by name. Since Chaudry’s removal and reinstatement from the Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention, which shapes hate crime policy in the state, the group has hardly met. 

“ADL still believes that CAIR should not be represented on this new version of the commission,” Weisel said, “and that we must appoint individuals and organizations that are committed to building bridges and understanding across all communities.” 

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.