Don't support laws you are not willing to kill to enforce

Yale Law School Professor, Stephen Carter


Category: Liberty

Last week the Black Lives Matter movement surged after we all witnessed the viral videos of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings by police. Everyone had their views to throw in after they occurred. These were the words I felt needed to be voiced the most, quoting the President of Utah’s Libertas Institute, Connor Boyack. Today I found the message expounded in a way that resonates even stronger for me referencing a case much less disputable regarding the (occasional) excessive force of police - that of Eric Garner. Yale Law School Professor, Stephen Carter said:

“On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.

“I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law…..

“The problem is actually broader. It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.”

In that same article he goes on to reference an estimate (because not even legal experts know for sure) that there are 300,000 “federal regulations [that] may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency” and that “more than 70 percent of American adults have committed a crime that could lead to imprisonment”. Carter notes, “activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate.”

Professor of Law at George Mason University, Ilya Somin backs up Carter saying “If we really want to curb police abuses, we should think carefully about whether all the laws we have on the books are really worth killing for.”

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