Those who claim to believe in “limited government” or “smaller government” or “Individual liberty” tend to focus on spending and government growth, entitlement programs and other forms of wealth transfer, and that’s all well and good. But all too often, the coercive power of criminal law, and criminally enforceable regulatory law is overlooked.
In the 2004 Cato Institute book Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, James V. DeLong writes, “It seems as if the Left and Right have entered into an agreement whereby each side gets to criminalize conduct it abhors so long as it lets the other side do the same.”
It has been a dysfunctional relationship to say the least.
As described in Go Directly to Jail, there are now thousands of federal crimes filling some 27,000 pages of the U.S. Code, plus an untold numbers of criminally enforceable regulations expressed in the tens of thousands of pages of the Code of Federal Regulations.
And it looks like things are only getting worse.
In early May, the conservative Heritage Foundation teamed up with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to publish Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law.
The report finds that, “…the 109th Congress alone proposed 446 non-violent criminal offenses, 57 percent of which lacked an adequate guilty-mind requirement.” Twenty-three of those inadequately protective offenses were enacted into law.
Other findings of egregious lawmaking activity by the 109th Congress includes:
- Criminal legislation was riddled with vague, far-reaching and imprecise language;
- Congress routinely delegated its authority to make criminal law to unaccountable regulators;
- Over half of all new criminal offenses were not sent to the House or Senate Judiciary Committees for review.
These findings should set off loud alarms with limited government conservatives, civil libertarians, and anyone else who cares about unjust government encroachment into American liberties, and the integrity of the American justice system.