Laws should be simple and all-encompassing to be fair

Aaron Berk is a computer engineering junior and Mustang Daily political columnist.

We are a country of laws and many would say those laws are what keeps our society civilized and allows us to go about our business in an orderly and structured society. Much of what political debates consist of is arguments as to what the laws should or should not be. I’d like to take a step back for a minute though and look at the big picture of laws. This is a subject we all should agree on, but not all laws are how we want them to be.

The laws should be all encompassing, meaning that they apply to everyone and in all circumstances. There are sometimes special cases where unordinary actions are generally permitted (perhaps an emergency responder on a call) but these special cases should be considered when laws are drafted and enacted. The law should be explicit in what it means, and there should be no exceptions that are just generally understood to exist but that aren’t actually enumerated in the law itself. The reasoning for this is that laws should be respected. If it’s just generally understood that in certain circumstances it’s okay to violate the law, then all laws lose some of their weight and respect.

Additionally, laws should be clear and concise. The whole point of having laws revolves around the expectation for people to follow them, and in order for people to follow laws they first have to understand them. It’s amazing how many laws we have now that are difficult to understand. Not only are some laws difficult to understand, but the sheer number of laws we have makes it impossible for any one person to actually know all the laws. Having an inordinate number of laws has a similar effect as having unclear laws: people won’t know and understand them and thus are likely to not follow them.

It would seem to me that having laws that are all encompassing, clear, and concise would be in everyone’s best interest. After all, we want to establish a playing field with clear rules as well as clear consequences for what happens when you break those rules. Unfortunately, I don’t believe our laws possess any of those three qualities, which begs the question — why don’t they?

I think we can attribute much of our poor legislation to the games of politics. It has become in Congress’ best interest to have long and complicated laws. Accountability goes out the window when people can’t make sense of 1,000+ page bills. It’s hard to track down what gets slipped in and has absolutely nothing to do with the title of the bill.

Furthermore, it’s unfortunate that the bills are so lengthy as it makes it difficult for a representative to vote on the bill. Just about any bill is bound to have some good provisions and bad provisions by any individual’s standards, so it leaves representatives in a quandary of whether or not the good outweighs the bad. It’s practically the norm these days that representatives vote for bad laws just because they’re attached to ones they approve of. Undoubtedly though over time the more questionable laws pile up and their effects become more and more apparent.

I think this process inevitably alienates all of the population. Different enforcement agents will undoubtedly make you face these laws at one point or another, whether it be an agency, a police officer, an IRS agent, etc. The law has become a force against even those who wish to abide by it. The law has become not about protecting us, but it has started to entrap us. This concept is not new but perhaps its significance and importance has been forgotten. People routinely hire accountants to do their taxes for them, as taxes are ridiculously complex. People also routinely hire attorneys and often times people’s guilt depends not on how well their attorney can argue their case, but because of their attorney’s knowledge of the laws and relevant judicial cases.

When laws become so numerous, so complex, and so impossible to grasp, they stop serving the purpose of laws.

  • Lauren Church

    After reading your piece, there are some points that I agree with, and several that I do not.

    First, generalizing that all laws are confusing to all people makes for a faulty argument. An example of a confusing law would be helpful and make your point less vague.

    You argue that “the whole point of having laws revolves around the expectation for people to follow them, and in order for people to follow laws they first have to understand them.” My issue with this statement is that you use the word people as if you are generalizing the whole population to fit into this “confused category.” The non-sequitor in the statement comes to the surface when you imply that people do not understand the laws strictly because the laws were written unclearly. Realistically, couldn’t it also be that people don’t understand the laws because they don’t try to understand them? Maybe the people who don’t understand, don’t take the time to follow the basic points of the laws.

    I agree with you that laws should be respected but honestly, when a law is disrespected, it is not solely because it is not clear, concise, or able to be easily understood. I would find it reasonable to say that more often than not, when a law is broken, the person is aware that they are doing so.

    “It has become in Congress’ best interest to have long and complicated laws.” This statement is a clear example of a non-sequitor. You imply that congress uses lengthy, complicated laws to distract and confuse the people? Maybe the reason behind their lengthy laws is the intent of being as thorough as possible. There are so many other possibilities for Congress’ reasoning behind how laws are written, therefore your conclusion should not be the only one taken into consideration.

    Lauren Church