America: A Nation of Laws?

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America is a nation of laws – badly written and randomly enforced. – attributed to rock musician Frank Zappa

Frequently we hear it said that America is “a nation of laws”. By this phrase it is meant that the United States is based on a system of checks and balances that ensure justice and order.

But have you ever really stopped to consider what it means to be a nation of laws? Consider how many laws exist in the United States. On the Library of Congress website, in a blog article titled, “Frequent Reference Question: How Many Federal Laws Are There?”, the first paragraph reads, “At the reference desk, we are frequently asked to estimate the number of federal laws in force. However, trying to tally this number is nearly impossible.” In a Wall Street Journal article on July 23, 2011, titled “Many Failed Efforts to Count Nation’s Federal Criminal Laws”, a retired Justice Department official by the name of Ronald Gainer is quoted as saying one could die and be resurrected three times and still be trying to enumerate all the federal laws on the books.

Think about it! With so many different governing bodies and so many different politicians and so many different ideologies at work, you are absolutely guaranteed the introduction of laws that are largely contradictory, redundant, confusing, ridiculous, oppressive, and otherwise unnecessary for, if not antagonistic to, the well-being and safety of the people.

This problem goes all the way back to the first convening of Congress in March of 1789. The states and the Federal government have both had over two centuries to steadily grow a gargantuan and incomprehensible tangle of laws. We like to call ourselves “law-abiding citizens”, but how can that be if we can’t even count the laws by which we are expected to abide?

True, some have been repealed or amended. But that’s even more legislation. And some simply aren’t in effect – yet. Those are like latent cancer cells. Do we know what they are, and if and when they’ll take effect?

Consider also that each and every one of these laws, whether good or bad, is subject to repeal and amendment by the same legislators who passed them. These legislators can be influenced by the lobbyist’s bribe and the latest popular trend that could propel them to a higher political rung. This is not to overlook the whims of judges to capriciously interpret, twist, and ignore these laws, and even play the role of legislator themselves on occasion.

In this light, think about the statement that “America is a nation of laws”. Indeed, America is drowning under an avalanche of laws passed by an army of career legislators. Every year the legal morass deepens and grows more unnavigable. It has literally reached the point where in following one law you risk breaking a handful of others. The “nation of laws” has actively made Americans a nation of felons simply through legislation – and the trend shows every sign of speeding up.

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