Radley Balko on FoxNews.com: Enthusiasm to pass laws threatens business and liberties (12/4/04)

This good piece from 2004 is worth a read. Balko praises the Washington Post op-ed by Rep. Brian Baird on this subject.

excerpts follow:

Congress Should Read Bills Before Voting
December 02, 2004
By Radley Balko


The gusto with which Congress passes laws also does significant damage to civil liberties. Author Gene Healy writes in the introduction to the new book, Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, that in 1998, the American Bar Association assembled a task force charged with compiling a complete list of federal crimes. The panel concluded that a complete list was nearly impossible to assemble, given that the approximately 4,000 federal laws were interwoven between regulatory law, judge-made law, and the 27,000 pages of the US. Code.

[Even] teams of legal researchers — let alone ordinary citizens — cannot reliably ascertain what federal law prohibits,” Healy writes.

Healy notes that this morass of indecipherable federal law means we could all essentially be criminals because we don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t. That’s particularly true of business owners. Healy quotes Harvard law professor William Stuntz, who warns that we’re “coming ever closer to a world in which the law on the books makes everyone a felon, and in which prosecutors and police both define the law on the street and decide who has violated it.”

There are many approaches for simplifying the federal code, but this problem of Congress failing to read the laws or the amendments they pass — or of sneaking new language into pending legislation at the last minute — requires reform of its own.


Radley Balko maintains a Weblog at: www.theagitator.com