I Wanna Defy the Logic of All Dumb Laws

Harvey Silverglate and Jan Wolfe team up for one of those (sadly) perennial articles about outdated on-the-books laws.

Consider the case of Timothy Boomer, who went on an expletive-laced rant after his canoe capsized in the Rifle River just north of Detroit in 1999. Unfortunately for Boomer, a mother and child on shore overheard his string of profanity, and the offended woman called the police. Shockingly, a judge found Boomer guilty of violating a Michigan law, dating back to the 19th century — and last reworded in 1931 — which states that anyone using “indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar, or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

It took three years for an appeals court to finally overturn Boomer’s misdemeanor charge and, in the process, invalidate (but, of course, not actually repeal) the antiquated law on both First Amendment and “void for vagueness” grounds. Such a statute, needless to say, also has serious gender-equality problems.

The Pocono Libertarians have a long list of ridiculous laws, although it has't been updated in a while. So: Would these laws be more or less likely to persist if they were always named after their sponsors? Would the shame of State Sen. Smithjones' descendents, who had to hear their pop's name every time someone was arrested for mating his daschunds 500 feet away from a church, provide the impetus to scrape the laws off the books?

(Headline reference here.)

UPDATE: Forgot to link this sorta-related Jeremy Lott interview with reason cover boy David Harsanyi. 

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  • ||

    Easy way to deal with it. Every law has a seven year sunset provision, unless that section of code is SPECIFICALLY (meaning, no voice votes just keeping it together as is as a while) authorized by the congress/assembly/city council/whatever, it dies. The pain in the ass factor would keep it down to the basic minimum.

  • Dan T.||

    I see nothing wrong with a law that is meant to protect our kids, not matter how "dumb" you think it is.

  • robc||

    While sunset provisions would do the best, there is another less good option:

    A few years (late 90s?) KY expanded from the legislature meeting every other year to every year. I suggested at the time that the expansion would be okay if they used the off year session only for removing laws. Year 1 - make new laws. Year 2 - remove unnecessary laws.

    I voted against the new session. It passed anyway.

  • ||

    Sunset provision is good idea. What I also would like to see, is a ban on naming public buildings after politicians - for at least until 25 years since they leave pass. For fuck's sake, Trent Lott s a sitting senator, and he has at least one outfit named after him (that I know of).

    Call it Cynical Bastard's Anti-Whoring Act, and, since it only applies to politicos, it won't need a sunset date.

  • ||

    Damn! Not enough coffee! Above should be "for at least until 25 years since they leave the office". Duh.

  • ||

    Calling the cops on somebody because you happen to overhear his potty-mouth is more than a little ridiculous. Did anybody ever ask that woman why she decided to be such an obnoxious busybody?

  • squarooticus||

    Dan T., a law mandating the execution of everyone a few years past sexual maturation would save countless children from sexual predators. I'll send a letter to Congress right now indicating your support for such a measure.

  • squarooticus||

    Call it Cynical Bastard's Anti-Whoring Act, and, since it only applies to politicos, it won't need a sunset date.

    Don't insult whores like that: whores don't hold you down to be raped while they take the money.

    Politicians are lower than whores, robbers, and ambulance chasers.

  • Scooby||

    But Other Matt, what happens if they forget to renew the laws against murder, rape, and child molestation? It would be mayhem!!1!ONE!

    Politico Self-aggrandizing hijack: Is there anything (government-owned) in the state of West Virginia not named after Byrd?

  • ||

    This post demands this link
    You can get arrested for that

  • ||

    The problem with the sunset provision law is that politicians, lazy bastards that they are, would do a blanket renewal of all the laws on the books due to expire.

  • ||

    NAME THE NEW I35 BRIDGE in Minneapolis contest!!!! You may already be a winner !!.It appears the late bridge won't be named posthumously after any politician, bureaucrat, bridge inspector or contractor, since none were/are responsible for it's demise. The bridge itself was sunsetted, apparently.

  • x,y||

    Mo,

    You could make it so they have to read the text of each provision on the floor of the legislative body before its renewal becomes effective.

  • ||

    Squarooticus - by "whores" I meant constituents: "give us (someone else's) money for that gizmo, and we'll name it after you". Still, it was uncalled for - my apologies to all the hardworking whores.

  • Matt Moore||

    Harvey Silverglate and Jan Wolfe team up for one of those (sadly) perennial articles about outdated on-the-books laws.

    Sadly perennial because you like articles like it and wish to see them more often, or sadly perennial because such articles are necessary?

  • ||

    In the 1820s, Sir Robert Peel (then Home Secretary) commissioned a study on the state of the legal system of the UK. It was found that in the preceding fifty years no prosecutions had been brought for eighty percent of the approximately two hundred capital crimes on the books. In the general housecleaning that followed many of the obsolete crimes were stricken or reduced in severity. He also established a competent professional police force in London and completely overhauled the prison system - we're way overdue for a Peel of our own.

  • ||

    Historical tidbit: The nickname for London cops is "bobbies", after Robert Peel.

    we're way overdue for a Peel of our own

    Amen, brother.

  • ||

    Easy way to deal with it. Every law has a seven year sunset provision, unless that section of code is SPECIFICALLY (meaning, no voice votes just keeping it together as is as a while) authorized by the congress/assembly/city council/whatever, it dies. The pain in the ass factor would keep it down to the basic minimum.

    And would this law mandating a sunset provision also have a sunset provision, thus ensuring it went away after seven years?

    And would the lawmakers circumvent this provision by putting all the existing laws on a consent calendar motion, to all be voted on in one motion?

  • ||

    I see nothing wrong with a law that is meant to protect our kids, not matter how "dumb" you think it is.

    So, if a law actually resulted in kids dying en masse, but it was "meant" to protect them, you'd be for it, Dan?

  • ||

    Why no mention of drug prohibition? I guess it is so beyond stupid there is no need to mention it. Never mind, nothing to see here folks.

  • Michigan Man||

    Calling the cops on somebody because you happen to overhear his potty-mouth is more than a little ridiculous. Did anybody ever ask that woman why she decided to be such an obnoxious busybody?

    I live near Detroit, and I remember when this case happened. It seems to me (I'm just going on my memory here) that the woman did not call the police. There was an off-duty police officer canoeing in the same area who heard the words and saw the woman and child. He took it upon himself to file the charges. When asked about it later by the media, his attitude was that a law was a law regardless of how outdated it was.

  • ||


    I live near Detroit, and I remember when this case happened. It seems to me (I'm just going on my memory here) that the woman did not call the police. There was an off-duty police officer canoeing in the same area who heard the words and saw the woman and child. He took it upon himself to file the charges. When asked about it later by the media, his attitude was that a law was a law regardless of how outdated it was.



    On one hand I'm impressed with that sort of memory for obscure outdated laws, and on the other I wonder what kind of asshole would actually bother to troll the books for said bizarre, outdated laws.

    If that's how it went down, then it's the cop who's the nosy prick. What a surprise!

  • Scooby||

    At least he used an actual violation of an actual on-the-books (albeit stupid and outdated) law to justify his harassment, unlike most cops these days who will just lie ("I smelled the distinctive odor of marijuana, so I searched the car..."). There's hope for this one if the laws ever get straightened out.

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