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November 2, 2017

Reform America’s Overbearing Federal Law Code

The manner in which the federal criminal law code is created needs to be reformed.

The federal government’s over-regulation doesn’t just consume Americans’ money and time, it’s impacting our freedom as well. One issue that has slowly gained the attention of an increasing number of Americans and politicians is the need for criminal justice reforms. America’s high prison populations, along with a high number of repeat offenders, is pointed to by many as evidence suggesting that the nation’s penal system is seriously broken. In October, Senate Republicans introduced three bills designed to reform the criminal justice system. These bills are a step in the right direction, but they still overlook one major component of the problem rarely mentioned — the problem of over-criminalization. Put simply, there are way too many federal laws and regulations on the books.

Experts who have studied the problem estimate that only about 5,000 of the more than 300,000 criminally enforceable federal laws have ever been directly voted on by Congress. That means that almost 99% of the federal criminal law code has been created by unelected bureaucrats working within executive branch agencies. In other words, there are no elected officials who the American public can hold accountable for these federal laws. This was not how the federal government was designed to work, as the job of the creating and voting on laws is supposed to be the responsibility of the legislative branch, not the executive. Basic American civics.

How did we end up here? Much of the initial blame falls on Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal executive power grab. Since 1940, the number of civilians employed in the executive branch has tripled. Along with increasing the size and scope of the executive branch was the development of legal doctrine stipulating that courts are to defer to a federal agency’s own interpretations of the scope of its authority. Essentially, these federal agencies have been granted the power to make whatever rules they claim fit within their own defined authority. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for every law Congress passes, federal agencies create 18 new regulations.

The greater number of criminal laws created, the greater the potential for more Americans to run afoul of those laws, intentionally so or not. More rules create more rule breakers. This power must return to Congress, where elected officials can be held directly responsible for the laws they vote on. No more of this handing off power and authority to unelected career bureaucrats.

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