As I always do on Martin Luther King Day, I re-read his famous letter from Birmingham Jail. Every time I read this letter, I'm left with the disappointment that I never had an opportunity to talk to Martin Luther King Jr. I suspect we could have each arrived at many of the same conclusions regarding government and freedom. We will never know. I'm also left with the impression that this was a very bright guy. I'm especially drawn to his discussion about "just" laws and "unjust" laws. I always enjoy his reminding us that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
Although Martin Luther King Jr. is no longer with us, countless unjust laws still persist. For decades now, I have been arguing with prosecutors about the draconian consequences imposed upon people for violating unjust laws. We now have a massive body of unjust laws often referred to as the "drug war" which collectively have been ruining the lives of peaceful people since President Nixon. The same can be said of laws against gambling, prostitution and peaceful gun ownership by responsible adults. They are all of the unjust variety.
The often repeated "rebuttal" from prosecutors is, "The law is the law." Even a cursory read of Dr. King's letter from Birmingham jail would allow us to conclude with certainty that Martin Luther King Jr. would be no more impressed with that "rebuttal" from prosecutors than I am. It is an evasion of the argument and not a response to it.
Today, on the holiday of Martin Luther King Day, I urge all prosecutors to reread Dr. King's letter and to think about "unjust" laws. Moral and just civil disobedience begins with a refusal to prosecute such cases. I suffer no disillusions which would allow me to actually believe today's prosecutors will suddenly stop prosecuting people for victimless crimes. However, putting the "law is the law" argument to rest would certainly be a good start!