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Should We Obey All Laws?

• lewrockwell.com/Walter Williams

Let's think about whether all acts of Congress deserve our respect and obedience. Suppose Congress enacted a law – and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional – requiring American families to attend church services at least three times a month. Should we obey such a law? Suppose Congress, acting under the Constitution's commerce clause, enacted a law requiring motorists to get eight hours of sleep before driving on interstate highways. Its justification might be that drowsy motorists risk highway accidents and accidents affect interstate commerce. Suppose you were a jury member during the 1850s and a free person were on trial for assisting a runaway slave, in clear violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Would you vote to convict and punish?


A moral person would find each one of those laws either morally repugnant or to be a clear violation of our Constitution. You say, "Williams, you're wrong this time. In 1859, in Ableman v. Booth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constitutional." That court decision, as well as some others in our past, makes my case. Moral people can't rely solely on the courts to establish what's right or wrong. Slavery is immoral; therefore, any laws that support slavery are also immoral. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."

 

4 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ana Panot
Entered on:

 A-75, another score on a dunkhead! Go punish them, until they learn.

Comment by Bertha Anonimo
Entered on:

You posted a long, worthless comment. All your long-winded blah-blah implies that the laws to be obeyed are not supported by the will of the people. Where did you come from? The will of the people is carried out in Congress. The will of the people in Congress passed the law that you should obey. But as I said, if you don't want to obey the law, just go ahead, it is your call. Disobey the traffic law on red light. Just drive through it. Then tell me what happens.

Comment by Dennis Treybil
Entered on:

Well, there's the law - and then there's the law.

If law is identified with government power, then that law must at least enjoy "the consent of the governed".

That was the meek and mild phrase used in the Declaration.

I call it meek and mild, because the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution opens with the following declaration:

All government, of right, originates with the people, is founded on their will alone, and is instituted to protect the rights of the individual and for the good of the whole.

See http://senate.legis.state.la.us/documents/constitution/Article1.htm#§1. Origin and Purpose of Government

Thomas Paine said as much in his Declaration of the Rights of Man.  (government is based on "will of the nation" or something similar.  Nation is often thought of as territory.  Does territory have will?  No, people have a will.  A nation is synonymous with its people, possibly even moreso than with its territory)

Federalist Paper 78 echoes the same sentiment.

In 1776, such a position may have lent itself to an appearance of beligerence on the part of the humble petitioners to the native justice of their British cousins.

When a federal bill becomes law, it becomes the supreme law of the land - meaning the judges in every state are bound thereby and federal executives have an obligation to enforce it.

Strictly speaking, this does not compel anyone to obey it.

If judges pass on it, FP 78 is an invitation to impeach them.  If the congress substitutes its will for that of the people and the courts fail to intervene effectively on the peoples' behalf, judges so ruling are failing to meet the "good behavior" language.  Then, it falls to the same Congress which first substituted its will for that of the people to act against those very judges who rubber stamped their illicit acts - acting as in impeaching those judges.

The human factor of government rears its head here.

Likely, on the basis of separation of powers, to my knowledge, this has never occurred.

Williams, in the article, writes, But if the court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, what should we do?

Move to have them impeached.  Elect a congress that will do it.

Some actions have both legal and natural consequences.  Accidents, and any ensuing injuries, resulting from failure to observe traffic signals are natural consequences, quite separate from any legal consequences.  Both the legal consequences and the natural consequences in such cases strongly resemble each other, in that both are penalties.  Neither enriches the violator.

But legal and natural consequences do not always so align.

In the case of complying with Obamacare, long term implications leave everybody less healthy and poorer.

Clearly, such a result is not the actual will of any large portion of the population.  To the extent enacted legislation does not represent the will of the people, it is not completely legitimate, certainly not legitimate in spirit.

Williams also writes: First, most Americans are against Obamacare, and secondly, I don't believe that you could find a U.S. soldier who would follow a presidential order to descend on a state to round up or shoot down fellow Americans because they refuse to follow a congressional order to buy health insurance.

In this statement, Williams may have understimated the effectiveness of the chain of command.  He may have also overlooked the possibility of some obscure treaty provision that would allow foreign troops on our soil.  I hasten to add, I am not specifically aware of any such provision, but significant deference given to U.N. policies in other matters (such as sending our troops abroad) is troubling here.

And, that's my 2 cents worth on the question posed by the headline of this article.

DC Treybil

Comment by Bertha Anonimo
Entered on:

Should we obey the law? Yes. You have to obey the law, not break it. It is not for you to declare any law passed by Congress unconstitutional. It is the Court of Law that does that.  If you disobey the law, there is only one way for you to go -- to the calaboose. There are even laws that when you break them, you just don't go to jail but to the hospital if not under, i.e., six feet below the ground. Try to break the traffic law on red light. Just drive through the red light. You will understand what I mean if you are still around.

 


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