Quote(s) of the Day: Scofflawism

 

“Laws are to govern all alike — those opposed as well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.” Ulysses S Grant, 1st Inaugural Address

“Never give an order you know won’t be obeyed.” Commonly referred to as the first principle of command

“The prohibition law, written for weaklings and derelicts, has divided the nation, like Gaul, into three parts — wets, drys, and hypocrites… The young see the law broken at home and upon the street. Can we expect them to be lawful?” Pauline Sabin

I was never popular, but one day, I made myself rather more unpopular than normal in my law school ethics class by speaking out against the very popular Kansas City practice of ticket fixing. After getting a speeding ticket, no matter how egregious, one need merely call a traffic lawyer, and magically the ticket becomes more expensive but for a non-moving violation that will not count against one’s driving privileges. This, I argued, was corruption and nothing less than the establishment of one set of traffic rules for the rich who could afford us lawyers and one for those who couldn’t.

I have the seemingly heretical notion that the law ought to be enforced. Where it cannot be enforced, it should be repealed. We live in a representative democracy; if we the people find a law too burdensome, too obnoxious, or too cruel, we not only have the right and the ability but even the duty to have it changed! To passively accept that a law is bad so one should feel no need to obey it (and accept the occasional getting caught as the price of doing business) is to create a nation of scofflaws.

The most obvious example is the law Mrs. Sabin fought so hard against — the Volstead Act, commonly known as Prohibition. It appears that the Progressives took the Federalist Papers comment that if men were angels, there would be no need for laws, to mean that if enough laws were passed, men would become angels.  We were a country that outlawed the sale of liquor, yet were the greatest importer of martini shakers in the world. As Mrs. Sabin noted, the widespread disrespect of one law lead to a culture of scofflawism, an attitude that has persisted through the present day.  When one can overhear a conversation about a fellow law student’s pot distributor, it’s fair to say that disrespect for laws prohibiting intoxicants is about as widespread as it gets.

How often could simply enforcing current law help solve our country’s problems! Take immigration as a current example. We have an illegal immigrant problem because the duration limits on short-term visas, I-9 employment regulations, and social services eligibility requirements are not enforced. Bust the Malibu millionaires for the illegals working their beach homes; police the factory farms; send out ICE vans to collect the suspiciously non-English-speaking loiterers in Home Depot parking lots. Give ICE the budget to keep tabs on the foreign students and tourists, given that 40% of illegal immigrants aren’t swimming borders but flying in legally. Jail the government workers who sign up illegals for benefits in violation of the law. A gigantic wall may be sexy and impressive, but why not start with the simpler solution of enforcing the law we already have?

But of course immigration isn’t our only problem — take health insurance. At the risk of sounding like a braggart, my health insurance premiums have not substantially increased over the last few years — because I’ve worked for companies who’ve gotten exemptions from ACA. I can’t say I would appreciate suffering like everyone else, but if our waiver was gone, another 220,000 people would be burdened under the bloated requirements and demanding change.

Then there are the little laws, like speeding. We all do it, and I’m sure most of us don’t get too upset on the extremely rare occasions when we are caught.  Of course, that’s because getting caught is so rare — were local governments able to fine people for speeding every minute every time, the only winning issue in the next election would be to raise the speed limits to something above the average speed of traffic.  As it is, speeding tickets, like most other traffic tickets, mostly exist as a randomly applied tax, done not for public safety but for revenue generation.  This is most clearly seen when areas have no speed limit, such as the German autobahns or the formerly speed-limit-free Montana. Contrary to the notion that traffic laws make us safer, Montanans found that when they reinstituted speed limits, fatal crashes went up 40%.

And this random enforcement of laws makes another problem even worse — the exponential growth of laws. No one even knows how many federal criminal laws there currently are, leading to the calculation that the average American commits three crimes a day.  These laws of course aren’t enforced; at least, they aren’t enforced until a citizen has fallen afoul of his government.  Then, the entire apparatus of government can swing around and find enough material to put anyone in jail.  And that is not liberty or the rule of law, but tyranny under color of law.

And so to law enforcement: enforce the law, no matter how terrible.  And to my fellow citizens: if you do not wish to obey the law, work to change it.

Published in Law
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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Amy Schley: And so to law enforcement: enforce the law, no matter how terrible. And to my fellow citizens: if you do not wish to obey the law, work to change it.

    My father was a policeman. I grew up hearing, “If you don’t like a law, work to change it, but don’t just ignore it.”

    • #1
  2. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Amy Schley: And so to law enforcement: enforce the law, no matter how terrible. And to my fellow citizens: if you do not wish to obey the law, work to change it.

    My father was a policeman. I grew up hearing, “If you don’t like a law, work to change it, but don’t just ignore it.”

    We found about the ease of ticket fixing completely on accident. My sister had gotten a ticket in high school, Dad left a message with a local lawyer asking what could be done, and then a couple weeks later he got a bill for a couple hundred bucks and a letter that said it was now all taken care of.  Dad was a policeman too, and he was absolutely livid that a) the lawyer took action without confirming he was even going to be our lawyer and b) that it was possible to do what the lawyer had done — namely turn a 60 mph in a 25 zone ticket to a non-moving violation.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    And this is part of the Quote of the Day Series, although we certainly got three good quotes today. All of our May dates have been claimed, but if you would like to participate, you can sign up for dates in June here.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    It would be a better country if those people would just drink less, for all kinds of values of those people.

    Morality is fine, but one should tread lightly when it comes to mixing it with law.

    • #4
  5. SEnkey Inactive
    SEnkey
    @SEnkey

    So much improvement could happen if the advice outlined above was followed. If laws don’t mean anything than we’re not a nation of laws. It introduces double think and teaches a disrespect of laws. I am a daily speeder, it is not a law I will probably ever follow. But I really don’t feel that I am doing anything morally wrong when I speed. I’m the problem, but I really think the law is the problem.

    To add a caveat to the second quote and my own personal pet peeve, don’t enact/pass laws you can’t enforce.  If you can’t enforce it, it will only ever be applied unjustly as a random tax. Seat belt laws! I buckle up, and think you should too – but there is no way to enforce this law consistently, accurately, or effectively. The click-it-or-ticket campaigns are such a waste of money and resources in my opinion.

    • #5
  6. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Interesting that it would happen in a law school class, and disappointing.  When I was first a peace officer, in the 70’s, it wasn’t unheard of, when making a vehicle stop with a driver from another part of the country – Chicago was the worst – that the driver would pass his license to the officer with a bill paper clipped on the back.  That was how they carried their driver licenses.  The standard response, instead of arresting the sucker, was simply to hand it back: “No, sir, it doesn’t work like that out here.  Just the license, please.”

    This was in California.

    • #6
  7. Bryan Van Blaricom Member
    Bryan Van Blaricom
    @BryanVanBlaricom

    SEnkey (View Comment):
    So much improvement could happen if the advice outlined above was followed. If laws don’t mean anything than we’re not a nation of laws. It introduces double think and teaches a disrespect of laws. I am a daily speeder, it is not a law I will probably ever follow. But I really don’t feel that I am doing anything morally wrong when I speed. I’m the problem, but I really think the law is the problem.

    To add a caveat to the second quote and my own personal pet peeve, don’t enact/pass laws you can’t enforce. If you can’t enforce it, it will only ever be applied unjustly as a random tax. Seat belt laws! I buckle up, and think you should too – but there is no way to enforce this law consistently, accurately, or effectively. The click-it-or-ticket campaigns are such a waste of money and resources in my opinion.

    My wife tells me that, when she was living in Germany in the ’80’s, the Germans had an interesting way of dealing with the seatbelt issue: they wouldn’t fine you for not wearing a seatbelt but, if you were in an accident, your insurance company was required to give you full compensation if you were wearing a seatbelt and otherwise was allowed to give you compensation for the injuries you would have suffered if you were wearing a seatbelt. The risk was up to you.

    • #7
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Great Post Amy!

    • #8
  9. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    In my former life, I worked with federal and state law enforcement of a few different flavors and one thing I heard often enough to prove it true to me was this: if you get stopped for some non-felonious infraction, show your badge and you get a pass.  This was valid across all levels of government.  Only the insiders usually knew of this handy little arrangement, of course, and unfortunately for them, after a few Heinekens, I knew it, too.

    • #9
  10. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody
    @HankRhody

    Amy Schley: No one even knows how many federal criminal laws there currently are, leading to the calculation that the average American commits three crimes a day.

    I know that’s the book title and all, but I’d like to see that calculation actually done. I’ll grant the premise that we’re guilty of some broken regulation or another that could let the bureaucracy make our lives a living hell if they ever felt the whim, but the actual number the give sounds too much like it was written for shock value.

    Not that I’ve read the book. Do they justify it in there?

    • #10
  11. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Amy Schley: As it is, speeding tickets, like most other traffic tickets, mostly exist as a randomly applied tax, done not for public safety but for revenue generation. This is most clearly seen when areas have no speed limit, such as the German autobahns or the formerly speed-limit-free Montana. Contrary to the notion that traffic laws make us safer, Montanans found that when they reinstituted speed limits, fatal crashes went up 40%.

    Montana got caught in the pickle of getting federal highway funds (strike 1) and having signs that said “drive at a reasonable speed” (strike 2).  Since they could not define “reasonable” as anything other than subjective, when people were pulled over for excessive speeds they claimed they were targeted, the cops were biased, etc.  The people who thrive on legalisms and nitpicking carried the day, and Montana re-imposed speed limits, just so they could have something to point to.

    I’ve seen this legalism at play in the workforce as well.  Many companies have overly detailed employee rule books, not because they want to stifle employees or engage in lawsuit CYA against some safety or harassment lawsuit, but because there are employees who cannot function without clearly defined rules, and will make others’ lives a living hell until there are rules on everything.  Same goes for Homeowners’ Associations – you always have a couple of households where the owners want to lay out everything from home decor to what car you drive.

    I had an employee of this type, and they did not last.  They demanded a rigid hierarchy (with themselves near the top) and impenetrable department barriers, with rules on every type of interaction between departments.  I’ve got a small business and that just doesn’t work.  I expect flexibility and independence of action and thought, but they demanded a system.

    Legalists ruin so much.

    • #11
  12. Joe P Member
    Joe P
    @JoeP

    skipsul (View Comment):
    I had an employee of this type, and they did not last. They demanded a rigid hierarchy (with themselves near the top) and impenetrable department barriers, with rules on every type of interaction between departments.

    Do any of these hierarchy-loving people ever imagine themselves anywhere but near the top? I mean, I hear talk about other people who like hierarchy “near the bottom” because they find the sense of order and structure imposed on them to be comforting, yet I never seem to see any of these people in the wild. And I only hear about this from people who like imposing said order and structure “near the top”.

    • #12
  13. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Joe P (View Comment):

    skipsul (View Comment):
    I had an employee of this type, and they did not last. They demanded a rigid hierarchy (with themselves near the top) and impenetrable department barriers, with rules on every type of interaction between departments.

    Do any of these hierarchy-loving people ever imagine themselves anywhere but near the top? I mean, I hear talk about other people who like hierarchy “near the bottom” because they find the sense of order and structure imposed on them to be comforting, yet I never seem to see any of these people in the wild. And I only hear about this from people who like imposing said order and structure “near the top”.

    Certainly applies to the do-gooders in my HOA.  They should be in charge because they would see to it that those awful white trash people across the street wouldn’t park their rusty work trucks in the street.

    But I have encountered the other sort in the wild – they have their own insecurities.

    • #13
  14. MrAmy Member
    MrAmy
    @MrAmy

    Trinity Waters (View Comment):
    if you get stopped for some non-felonious infraction, show your badge and you get a pass

    Kansas City, for a while, posted pictures of the Johns that would get busted for prostitution. The first one was a KC firefighter. The undercover cop tried to warn him, but he came back with “Since it’s a part time gig, do I get a discount?”

    • #14
  15. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    From the Competitive Enterprise Institute as of March 2014

    The annual Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the “codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.”

    Back in 1960, the CFR contained 22,877 pages in 68 volumes.  The CFR stood at 71,224 pages by year-end 1975, in 133 volumes.

    Now, new data shows the CFR standing at 175,496 at year-end 2013 within 235 volumes including a 1,170-page index.  (BTW, Obama added 17,522 pages of regulations in just five years in office.)

    And this of course doesn’t include state and local laws (including community developers’ CCRs)

    I would venture to say that no one, not one of us, could get thru one day without breaking some law, code or regulation.  If one finds oneself before a judge who condescendingly informs you that ignorance of the law is no excuse, you might want to have a loaded flatbed truck parked behind the courthouse to disabuse the judge of that notion…

    Scofflaws all as we have long since developed a (healthy?) disrespect for the law in general.

    • #15
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