This vote was on a motion to end debate and proceed to a vote on an amendment that would create federal criminal penalties for several types of hate crimes. Republicans who opposed the amendment by Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., repeatedly sought to hold up consideration of the amendment. So the Democratic leadership filed a motion to bring debate on the amendment to a close (called a “cloture motion”).
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians. The Senate’s Democratic leadership filed the cloture motion to try to bring these days of debate to an end, as well as to ensure they could defeat any potential filibuster. Invoking cloture, and cutting off a filibuster, requires the same amount of votes (60, a large margin in the Senate). 
Kennedy’s amendment was offered to the bill that authorizes the nation’s military activities and programs in fiscal 2008. The amendment is based on stand alone legislation Kennedy introduced earlier in the year (S 1105). It would create distinct federal penalties for certain hate crimes, including those based on gender, disability and sexual orientation, which are not currently covered under federal hate crimes law. This would create a class of new crimes that would establish penalties based on the motivation for the crime, as a way to both express societal disapproval of hate crimes and to function as a deterrent.
“Hate crimes are especially heinous because they deny the dignity, the humanity, and the worth of whole segments of our society. They inflict terror not only on the immediate victims but on all their families, their societies, and, in some cases, an entire Nation. A hate crime against one member of another group shouts to the other members: You are next. You better watch your step when you leave your home, when you go to work, when you travel. This is domestic terrorism, plain and simple, and it is unacceptable as an assault from our enemies abroad who hate us just as irrationally,” Kennedy said.
Republicans criticized the amendment both because of its contents and also because they argued that it was unrelated to the subject of the bill, which authorizes the U.S. military’s activities and programs in fiscal 2008.
John Cornyn, R-Texas, opposed the amendment because he does not believe that the law should treat one group of people any differently than another one when it comes to determining punishments for crimes.
“I believe individuals ought to be treated as individuals and not as members of groups, and that all human beings are entitled to the dignity God gave them by creating them, and they all ought to come equally before the bar of justice when they are accused of crimes and be given equal justice under the law. It is a mistake, in my judgment, to begin to treat people unequally based on the same conduct because of notions that some crimes are simply more despicable than others based upon the individual against whom they are perpetrated,” Cornyn said. “All crimes of violence are crimes of hate. All ought to be judged according to the same criteria.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said adopting Kennedy’s amendment would jeopardize the entire bill because the White House opposes the language.
“A vote for Senator Kennedy’s hate crime amendment regretfully [sic] puts this whole bill in jeopardy. The only way to ensure we have a Defense authorization bill this year is to vote against the Kennedy amendment. There are too many important Defense provisions in the bill that are at risk because of a controversial, nongermane amendment dealing with social policy,” McConnell said. “But what are we trying to accomplish here? Do we want to protect the defense policy matters in this bill that actually matter to our forces in the field, or do we want to debate political and social issues on this measure?”
By a vote of 60-39, the Senate voted to bring debate on the amendment to a close and force a final vote. Every Democrat present voted for the motion to bring debate to a close. Of Republicans present, 39 voted against the motion and 9 voted for it. The end result is, the Senate wrapped up debate on the amendment and proceeded to vote on the amendment itself (the Senate ended up passing the amendment by voice vote).