“America Has Too Many Rules”

And too many laws. Jimmy Sexton, CEO of Esquire Group, is right about the rules.

More than 88,000 federal regulations were promulgated between 1995 and 2016, the most recent data I can find. The Federal Register, a compendium of each year’s new federal regulations, proposed rules and notices, totals nearly two million pages dating back to its inception in 1936. And the Code of Federal Regulations ran to 185,000 pages in 2020. In addition, state and local governments have their own laws and rules.

As he noted,

Laws should be easy to comply with and simple to enforce.

The easy compliance and enforcement isn’t only a matter of each one being short and sweet; the ease flows especially from keeping the overall number small and knowable in their aggregate.

And I’m right about too many laws, especially at the Federal level. Just on the criminal side alone, there are almost 5,200 criminal laws and roughly 300,000 regulations that can subject people to possible criminal penalties. among our statutes, even though the only crimes our Constitution actually names are treason and bribery—and the nebulous high Crimes and Misdemeanors, named in the context of impeaching the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States. Even the first enumeration of national-level crimes, the Crimes Act of 1790, passed in the 1st Congress, identified only 21 additional crimes wanting Federal-level enforcement and punishment:

  1. treason
  2. misprision of treason (deliberate concealment)
  3. willful murder occurring on federal property
  4. rescue/attempted rescue of a body following an execution
  5. misprision of felony
  6. “man-slaughter”
  7. piracy
  8. “accessory before the fact”
  9. “accessory after the fact”
  10. confederate to piracy
  11. maiming
  12. forgery/counterfeiting/falsifying federal securities or coin
  13. altering/corruption of federal records
  14. larceny
  15. receiving stolen goods
  16. perjury
  17. subornation of perjury (contracting with another to commit perjury)
  18. bribery
  19. obstruction a federal officer
  20. rescue of an inmate
  21. violation of safe conduct/passport.

The rest of criminal behaviors and their definitions are, by design, left to the police powers of each of the several States.

The only Federal criminal laws we need, then, are few: against treason and bribery, and against each of those additional 21, each of which needs to be particularly describing these crimes’ defining criteria, and especially for those 21, particularly describing the criteria that separate them from State crimes and make them Federal crimes.

And yet we have an enormous and bureaucratic Department of Justice and a broad range of Federal police forces: the FBI, the Marshals Service, the Secret Service, each Federal cabinet has its own police force, even the Congress has the Capital Police.

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