Too Many Laws to Abide

Thursday, April 09, 2015

George Will becomes the latest commentator -- among others he cites -- to warn of the dangers inherent in a massive federal regulatory code that improperly criminalizes myriad activities:

Regulatory crimes, [Michael Anthony] Cottone observes, often are not patently discordant with our culture, as are murder, rape and robbery. Rather than implicating fundamental moral values, many regulatory offenses derive their moral significance, such as it is, from their relation to the promotion of some governmental goal.

The presumption of knowledge of the law is, Cottone argues, useful as an incentive for citizens to become informed of their legal duties. Complete elimination of the presumption would be a perverse incentive to remain in an ignorance that might immunize a person from culpability. But "there can be no moral obligation to do something impossible, such as know every criminal law," let alone all the even more numerous -- perhaps tens of thousands -- regulations with criminal sanctions.
We face immediate and long-term dangers from this state of affairs. First is that from effectively arbitrary criminal prosecution. Second, unless we reverse course soon, cultural respect for law and order will suffer as abuse of the law by government official becomes familiar, and people generally forget what good government is like.

-- CAV

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