Saturday, April 9, 2011


One popular legislative theory today holds that if you create a bill that's massive and all-encompassing, you will be able to create a law so complicated that not only will no one be able to fully comprehend it (including the lawmakers who ostensibly wrote it), but no future legislature will be able to walk it back. Equally popular is another theory, that says that the best way to achieve this goal is to instead create a multitude of single purpose laws dedicated to a grand design, in the knowledge that by doing so future legislatures will find it impossible to discover and repeal all of them and allow the original purpose to be served. 

Both legislative theories have proven themselves correct, though they deserve no credit for doing so. Rather than proving to be of benefit to the governed, what they've mostly done is to pile insult upon injury. What none of these legislators and legislatures seem capable of acknowledging is their own potential fallibility.  

What in fact, would make any elected official believe that they are capable of (or required to) create a body of laws to cover every aspect of life; and protect the electorate not only from life's toil and trouble, but from themselves? The harm caused from such legislative theory is not restricted to legislatures however. There are after all three branches of government in this country, and the other two are not to be so easily kept from the party. For their part, the Executive branch at every level of government attempts to filter this fire hydrant-like stream of legislative excess (and assert their own control over the process) by selectively enforcing the bills passed into law. 

Those in control of enforcement watch and approve as legislatures across the country pass laws banning cell phone use and texting while driving, while failing to enforce existing laws against 'driving while distracted' that cover a far greater variety of equally dangerous actions. The federal government chooses which parts of immigration law it will enforce and aggressively attacks state governments who seek to enforce the rest. That same federal government selectively pursues voter intimidation law in the case of the Black Panthers in Philadelphia in spite of its own Department of Justice establishing a prima facie case. 

When legislatures fail to serve the grand design of the Executive branch's vision of the country, it simply bypasses the legislative process and resorts to 'Executive Orders' and bureaucratic regulation to get its way. 

Not to be outdone in this contest of wills, the Courts likewise take their turn in the theoretical mayhem. They decide who has standing to challenge existing law (whether they agree that such law violates state or federal Constitutions or not), thereby passively allowing bad laws to stand and good laws to go unenforced. Judges likewise make quick, indecisive, or arbitrary decisions; knowing that doing so is good 'politics' for positions that require re-election, and that regardless of their ruling, the losing side will appeal the decision to a higher level. 

The Judicial process at local, state, and federal levels has become so over-burdened and interminably slow that by the time any final determination is made, the law is firmly entrenched in society and impossible to walk back regardless of the ruling. No matter however, for whether the Judicial branch is able or chooses to rule on the rare challenge made, many more laws remain on the books long after they have become obsolete, ineffective, or just plain stupid.  

For example: In Kansas it is illegal: 
- To shoot rabbit from motorboats. 
- To fish with your bare hands. 
- If two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed. 

Ohio instead finds it is illegal: 
- To fish for whales on Sunday. 
- To get a fish drunk. 
- For women to wear patent leather shoes in public. 

In Illinois however, you may be arrested: 
- For vagrancy if you don't have at least $1 in your pocket. 
- If you fail to contact the police before entering a city in an automobile. 

In Chicago: 
- It's illegal for any business to enter into a contract with the city unless it has first checked its records and reported any dealing that it had with slaves in the era of slavery. 
- It's likewise illegal to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck. 

In New York on the other hand, it's illegal: 
- For citizens to greet each other by putting their thumb to their nose and wiggling their fingers. 
- To throw a ball at someone's head. 
... and my favorite 
- The punishment for jumping off a building is death. 

The whole sad process often seems little more than a comedy of political errors, when not an attempt at forced behavior modification by legislative fiat. Legislatures have long sought (and failed) to establish societal morality by legislative fiat with the force of government behind them. Once you get past the pettiness, the self-righteousness, and lunacy; the only law that ultimately triumphs from these efforts is the one of unintended consequences. It is small wonder consequently that when considering the legislative theory that legislatures at every level of government use, they are held today in so little regard.

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