Enforce or Repeal

How transparent is a government that enacts laws but chooses not to enforce them?

Illegal Immigration. Illegal immigration is a problem not because a bunch of sneaky criminals managed to pull one over on our nation’s finest. It’s a problem because for decades, immigration laws were not systematically enforced. If they weren’t important enough to enforce, then they’re not important enough to retain. The ethical thing to do would be to legalize immigration, use systematic screening like modern industrial countries do, and give amnesty to those who were allowed to immigrate at the pleasure of non-enforcing enforcers. Enforce it or repeal it.

Negligent Homicide. I read a news story a couple of years ago about a high school coach who left his young child (toddler age) in his SUV all day. When the guy returned to his vehicle, the child had died of heat exposure. The coach “forgot” he had the kid with him in the car, but he was not charged with negligent homicide. Either negligent homicide is illegal and must be enforced, or it’s really okay and the law against it should be repealed. Otherwise the potential for abuse is simply too great.

Some have argued that he would have been charged if he’d killed somebody else’s child. But that’s preposterous: Does the statute say “negligent homicide is a felony offense except when the victim is a child of the person who committed the homicide, in which case it’s not actually a crime”? Enforce it or repeal it.

Assault and Battery. It’s not apparent that the gentleman from yesterday’s news story in Ohio — the one who allegedly branded an eighth-grader’s forearm with the sign of the cross — is even going to be brought before a grand jury to see if a crime was committed (you know, like assault & battery). How can a government be transparent if it picks and chooses when it feels like enforcing the law? Enforce it or repeal it.

Scooter Libby. The prosecution’s sentencing memorandum in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby says the following:

“Mr. Libby, a high-ranking public official and experienced lawyer, lied repeatedly and blatantly about matters at the heart of a criminal investigation concerning the disclosure of a covert intelligence officer’s identity. He has shown no regret for his actions, which significantly impeded the investigation. Mr. Libby’s prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system’s independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding, or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers. The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.” (quoted in Berman statement to House Judiciary Committee, see below)

As everybody knows, President George W. Bush promptly commuted Libby’s prison sentence so that the act went unpunished. In the words of Ohio State University law professor Douglas A. Berman:

“Even if one accepts the President’s assertion that a 30-month prison term for Mr. Libby was excessive, it is hard to justify or understand the President’s decision to commute Mr. Libby’s prison sentence in its entirety. It is particularly difficult to see how, in Tony Snow’s words, ‘the rule of law’ and ‘public faith in government’ have been served by enabling Mr. Libby to avoid having to serve even one day in prison following his ‘serious convictions of perjury and obstruction of justice.’ Indeed, the conclusion to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum submitted to the District Court in this case spotlights why a term of imprisonment for Mr. Libby seemed essential—and certainly not ‘excessive’—to both Mr. Fitzgerald and Judge Walton.” (Berman statement to House Judiciary Committee)

What good is it for the judiciary branch to attempt to enforce the law if the executive branch can make sure that its friends are not punished even if convicted and sentenced? In the end, the laws against perjury were not enforced in this case. Enforce it or repeal it.

How transparent is a government that enacts laws but chooses not to enforce them?

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