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Fewer Laws, Greater Justice

Something that has been very distressing to civil libertarians has been the explosive increase in the number of federal criminal laws in recent years.  Much of this law is created not by elected representatives but by unaccountable regulators and bureaucrats.  They often involve felony charges and severe penalties for acts that seem completely innocuous.  People’s lives are ruined because they pulled their boat too close to a whale, or filled in a puddle in their back yard, or in one famous case, a  maintenance engineer for a military retirement home mistakenly hooked up a sewer pipe incorrectly and some sewage leaked into the Potomac River.  The feds destroyed his life because of an innocent mistake.  See the video about him below:

Thankfully, some relief might be on the way.  In an all-too rare case of liberty actually expanding, a congressional task force is looking at the 4500 some-odd federal criminal laws with an eye toward paring them down.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Congress plans this week to create a new, bipartisan task force to pare the federal criminal code, a body of law under attack from both parties recently for its bloat.

The panel, which will be known as the House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, will comprise five Republicans and five Democrats. It marks the most expansive re-examination of federal law since the early 1980s, when the Justice Department attempted to count the offenses in the criminal code as part of an overhaul effort by Congress.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.) said he expected the committee to work through consensus. “We’ve been warned it’s going to be a working task force and it means we’ll have to essentially go through the entire code,” he said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) a longtime champion of overhauling the code, will lead the task force. He is expected to reintroduce a bill he has tried to get through several congresses that would cut the size of the criminal code by a third. “Overcriminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems,” he said.

In a city with deep political divisions, the expansion of federal criminal law has created a coalition of allies from opposite sides of the aisle, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Legal experts estimate there are 4,500 criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties, including prison. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year. In recent years, states have reversed years of steady increases by reducing their prison populations while the number of people held at the federal level has continued to climb. Federal lawmakers and legal experts attribute part of the continuing increase to the rise in criminal offenses and regulations that carry prison time and the creation of laws that don’t require knowledge of wrongdoing.


So they hope to cut about a third of the 4500 laws, or about 1500 laws.  I would cut a few more than that.  I would cut 4497 federal laws and leave the original three named in the Constitution: treason, piracy, and counterfeiting.  Everything else can be handled by the states.

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