Thursday, June 5, 2014

Unsession

I’m a nomadic homebody. It’s not an oxymoron - it just means that when I’m in a particular place I settle for whatever time I’m going to be there. Generally when I leave a location, I often focus on the excitement and exploration of something new rather than reminisce about what I'm leaving. That said, no matter the attributes of Boston, I find myself longing for the meteorological certainty and temperate climate of Los Angeles. (Every day!) There are favorite haunts from when I was in other areas as well. There’s no question that I miss the people and friends from all of my prior haunts. This week I'm jealous of what’s happened in Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the Democratic legislature repealed 1,175 “obsolete, silly” laws in the land of 10,000 lakes during an 'Unsession.'  The Governor said: “In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, sped up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language.”


How many laws are on the federal books? According to the Library of Congress: “The current Code has 51 titles in multiple volumes. It would be very time consuming to go page by page to count each federal law, and it also does not include case law or regulatory provisions.” In other words, nobody knows!  According to Wikipedia “The Code of Laws is the official compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States. The current edition of the code was published in 2012, and according to the Government Printing Office, is over 200,000 pages long.”

That’s just federal law. The bulk of the laws that affect everyday people are local and state laws. Even if each state has a fraction of the code the U.S. does, there are millions of pages of laws in existence. Since it’s impossible to calculate a total number, but let’s agree there’s lots of laws. Wikipedia: “As of April 2011, there were 1,225,452 licensed attorneys in the United States.” So there are plenty of lawyers to keep track of the various laws.

State law used to govern nearly all criminal violations and federal law addressed more civil and regulatory issues. Now there are nearly identical federal criminal laws that allow law enforcement to determine which legal venue would yield the “best” result. (Law and Order would have lost many story lines if this wasn’t the case!)


One of the more notorious examples is the Rodney King case. After a local jury found the (white) police officers not-guilty of the beating that was captured on video, riots ensued in Los Angeles. The U.S. attorney then charged the officers with a hate crime and they were found guilty and went to jail. Without getting into the details on either of those cases, the actions of the officers against King were adjudicated twice, once in state court (assault) and once in federal court (hate crime). Yes they were different types of charges, but clearly Double Jeopardy was circumvented in this case, and in many lesser famous trials. That happens when there's one action and multiple tries at convictions.

It is no longer illegal to carry fruit in an illegally sized container in Minnesota. That’s a good start at reforming the code. There’s much work to be done in other states and at the federal level. I might even put up with another MInnesotan winter for more Unsessions.

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