A Challenge to Law-Abiders

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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117 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Same question I had with the jaywalking [1] mom — what motivates a prosecutor to pursue such a stupid case?

    1. Or not.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If she doesn’t like the public school system, maybe she should move to Somalia.Report

  3. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    The possibility that the child’s life was at stake, in the face of which other laws/regulations melt away? (Or does citing rabbinic precedent count as looking toward them furriner courts for guidance?)

    Best I can do on one cup of coffee — but, of course, that would also open the door to anyone who felt their life was in danger (or perhaps their child’s life?) to enter the country, so I don’t know that I just defended immigration laws AND opposed her trial. Not that I was really trying to, however…Report

  4. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I have nothing to contribute to Jason’s brilliant trap.

    But, having a father who drives a school bus for a living, I can say that things like this are not at all surprising. If anything ever goes wrong, and the bus driver didn’t do things by the book, they’ll be the ones to fall.

    In a related story, one bus driver I know of had kids throwing stuff out of one of the back windows I believe. I think something might have cracked a car window in a following car, which also happened to belong to a police woman. She pulled the bus over, and wanted to board it, but the driver refused, knowing full well if anything outside the ordinary happened it would be his ass on the line.Report

  5. Avatar cfpete says:

    Jason,
    I agree with your POV in regards to immigration but this is freaking weak.

    The mother should be excluded from prosecution due to the fact she believed her child was in “imminent danger.” We should build a 1000 ft tall wall along the Mexican border to prevent immigrants from placing themselves in “imminent danger” by crossing the desert.

    Mangling the headline du jour to push a completely unrelated policy?
    I was not aware you left CATO for CAP.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to cfpete says:

      We should build a 1000 ft tall wall along the Mexican border to prevent immigrants from placing themselves in “imminent danger” by crossing the desert.

      Or we could just let them use the roads, you know.Report

      • Roads! The Fire Department! Public Schools! Emergency Rooms! Our Daughters!Report

      • Avatar cfpete in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I am just working within “your” constraints.
        I can make a legal and moral case for open borders but you are the one who twisted this specific prosecutorial overreach into something about immigration.
        Many here think you have a good “gotcha” argument, but I am telling you that I could completely turn this line of thinking back upon itself. This is generally what happens when you try to conflate completely unrelated issues.

        My main complaint: you are trying to make the hypocrite argument. The favorite argument of cable news. Who is the hypocrite in this case? Who supports this outcome other than some prosecutor trying to pad his\her resume?Report

        • Avatar cfpete in reply to cfpete says:

          To be clear, this is what I see Jason arguing: if you favor restraints on immigration then you must favor putting a woman in jail for trying to save her dying child.

          Fox News could not possibly improve on that meme.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to cfpete says:

            I think it’s more that he’s arguing something like this:

            There are laws that have foundation in, for lack of a better word, morality. Don’t commit murder, don’t steal, don’t lie under oath, etc.

            There are also laws that have foundation in other stuff.

            The other stuff can be cultural (don’t sell alcohol on Sunday), it can be conventional (drive on the right side of the road), it can be based in attempts to maintain privilege (much of immigration law), it can be based in an attempt to cover everybody’s ass pre-emptively (those laws on buses that say “federal law says that riders must not stand on or past the yellow line while bus is in motion”).

            Natural Law, if there is such a thing, allows for such things as self-defense and, probably, getting on a school bus to help your kid that you think may be dying.

            If you are a fan of laws that are not based in morality but in something else entirely, it’s usually a good gambit for the person arguing in service of Natural Law (and/or morality) to get you to come out and say that.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to cfpete says:

          I agree cfpete: I’m not sure what the target of the gotcha is: merely exposing hypocrisy or a reductio on immigration laws.

          I don’t think this is about prosecutorial ‘overreach’ since by hypothesis, prosecutors ought to enforce the law as it’s written/understood.Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to Stillwater says:

            I don’t want to speak for Jason, but I think you both might be taking his point too broadly.

            I don’t see Jason using the case above as an argument against all anti-immigration sentiment. Rather, there is a growing strategy I hear a lot on talk radio, for those advocating a wall/border patrol/etc. This strategy is that when ever the opposing view point makes an argument of any kind, or ventures into visualizing how the immigration system might be changed, or really says anything at all, the reply is:

            “But it’s *illegal.*”

            I think it’s this particular strategy that Jason is making fun of.Report

            • Avatar cfpete in reply to RTod says:

              RTod,
              Jason should argue against anti- immigrant sentiment.
              Jason should make the case for the economic benefits of increased immigration to the US.
              He is not doing that here and I am going to call him on it.
              He doesn’t realize it but it’s for his own good.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to cfpete says:

                I could make those arguments, but they would properly be the subject of another post. Here I’m simply taking apart an argument that many appear to find persuasive, not offering any affirmative case of my own. That’s perfectly fine too, you know.Report

          • Avatar cfpete in reply to Stillwater says:

            Stillwater,
            “I don’t think this is about prosecutorial ‘overreach’ since by hypothesis, prosecutors ought to enforce the law as it’s written/understood.”

            That is simply not the way the world works. The relative of someone “important” would have never faced these charges.
            Numerous police officers across numerous jurisdictions have committed murder and have never been charged due to “prosecutorial discretion.”
            In this case as in others, the idea of “sending a message” is anathema to the Constitutional principle of Equal Protection.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to cfpete says:

              No, I agree prosecutorial discretion happens. I was saying that Jason’s point can’t be about prosecutorial over-reach. If it’s only that, then there is no gotcha.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to cfpete says:

      I hear there’s a brutal drug war raging in Mexico…including many border towns…but nah, crossing the border would never be a matter of life and death for some immigrants.Report

  6. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Addendum to those citing danger to a child’s life: Have you seen the infant mortality rates in various countries?Report

    • Avatar cfpete in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Yeah, the US infant mortality rate sucks.
      We should all move to Guam, or stop letting pro-lifers dictate the way we measure infant mortality.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      US infant mortality is awful for a developed country. Let’s defund the group that does the most pre-natal care!Report

    • I wouldn’t expect the average chanter of “It’s the law!” to have a sufficient understanding of criminal law to make this point, but the critical fact of the “danger to a child” argument above isn’t just “danger to a child” but “imminent danger to a child.” The “imminent” part of the sentence makes all the difference between an affirmative defense of necessity and a legally insufficient excuse. Probably the leading case on this is US v. Schoon, 939 F2d 826.

      Suffice to say, in most locales it’s not enough to show that the harm of not saving the child is worse than the harm of a trespass or even that the trespasser was also blameless for creating the situation; you also need to show a lack of reasonable alternatives and that the lawbreaking ceased as soon as the danger passed.

      Since illegal immigration is an ongoing violation of the law, it cannot be said to have ceased once the danger passed. I also suspect that “get in line” would usually be considered a reasonable alternative, regardless of the practical problems with that course of action.Report

  7. Avatar RTod says:

    Jason – I liked this; the challenge gambit is clever.

    May I offer one in return?

    Recy Taylor was a 24 year old woman walking home from church with friends when six men pulled up in a car, forced her into at gunpoint, and drove her a few miles away. You can probably guess what all six men did to her at gun and knife point, repeatedly along with a savage beating, before dropping her off back near where they had picked her up.

    There were many witnesses to her being picked up, and since it happened in the small town of Abbeville, everyone who had seen the perpetrators knew exactly who they were. With all the evidence at hand, it should have been an easy trip up the river (or the chair) for all six of the rapists.

    However, unfortunately for both Recy and justice, the town of Abbeville was in Alabama and the year the crime was committed was 1944. After reviewing the case, the police and prosecutors made a determination similar to the one we might have wished those in charge of the school bus fiasco had made: Sure, if you want to be nit-picky, the brutal abduction and gang-rape was *technically* against the law; but these were upstanding white boys and she was black, and so really what harm was done? After all you can’t legislate morality, and why try to prosecute laws that go against the natural order of things? So they walked.

    I bring this up not because I am arguing in favor for the prosecutor that pushed the misdemeanor with the woman fearing for her child’s life; I think he probably should have walked away from the case. (I say probably, because many have been the times when I have read a “That’s just crazy!” story about things like this, and learned later that the facts being reported in outrage were far, far different that were being reported.) And it’s not because I agree with those that couch every argument about immigration with “but it’s against the law!” because I think of that line used around that issues is most often used as a crutch.

    It’s just that I just that I always think of this case when people argue that government officials should just use common sense when deciding when to either follow or ignore the law. Common sense can lead people to funny places.

    (btw, fwiw this Spring that Alabama House officially apologized to Recy and her family.)Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to RTod says:

      Could you break this analogy down into its constituent premises and conclusions? I’m completely lost as to what this has to do with anything.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        It’s similar to the argument against jury nullification.

        If prosecutors/juries/authorities in general are allowed “discretion”, it will eventually result in one law for this group of folks and one law for that group of folks IN PRACTICE.

        And the evidence for that is Law Enforcement as it existed in the deep South as it was applied to Whites as compared to African-Americans.Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to Jaybird says:

          I would mind prosecutorial discretion a lot less if juries were fully informed about their ability to nullify.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Plinko says:

            The problem with nullification is that it has been misused grotesquely in the past (and could easily be misused today).

            In the past, we saw murders of African-Americans go to trial and the killers were found “not guilty” by a jury of their peers. (The Feds had to send their own guys down to investigate and put the killers on trial for civil rights violations… which, of course, resulted in charges of “double jeopardy”.)

            As for today, imagine two guys with different backgrounds caught with a quarter ounce. The white kid who is in college and getting a degree in engineering who only smokes it on Friday nights before watching Quantum Leap marathons and spends all day Saturday and Sunday studying… and the non-white kid who is not in college and finds himself between burger flipping jobs.

            Which seems more likely to have a decent defense lawyer? Which seems more likely to be sympathetic to a jury? If someone is sent to the penitentiary, who is it gonna be? If someone is going to get his record expunged at the completion of 80 hours community service, who is it gonna be?Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

              “Which seems more likely to have a decent defense lawyer? Which seems more likely to be sympathetic to a jury? If someone is sent to the penitentiary, who is it gonna be? If someone is going to get his record expunged at the completion of 80 hours community service, who is it gonna be?”

              If white folks experienced the criminal justice system like people of color did, we would quickly hear a lot more cries for reform.

              (I’m not denying the many, many, many instances of abuse that whites suffer at the hands of the criminal justice system. But, on the whole, it’s pretty obvious that people of color have it far worse.)Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Well, I will give it a shot:

        Person A: Illegal immigration is *against the law!* Any particular argument you make about the current system is moot, because it is *against the law.* Circumstances are not relevant.

        Person B: Here is a woman that is being prosecuted for doing something that was illegal, but she’s a nice lady and what she did wasn’t so bad! The prosecutor should let her walk. We should really condemn prosecutors that decide it’s not their place to determine when the law is to be followed and when not.

        Me: Based on everything I know about the way our justice system works, I am paradoxedly and wishy-washily uncomfortable with both of these positions. And I need a drink.

        (Hey, I’m not saying it was a *good* point.)Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to RTod says:

      RTod-

      If I understand you correctly, this is actually a sentiment I believe with. It seems that you are arguing against discretion because discretion can be used to do just as much harm as good. Giving prosecutors discretion gives them the power to decide what laws to enforce and against whom, something I think we have seen they can’t be trusted with. Enforce every single law as written. The system will soon realize that having all these rules on the book as they are is stupid and impractical. If you arrest every parent who steps onto a school bus, you’ll soon have hundreds of thousands of prisoners to deal with that need not be dealt with.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BSK says:

        This is also one way that Zero Tolerance policies are typically justified. People point to things like “driving while black” and say “see? Clearly the law-enforcement authorities are racists! If you allow discretion then you will have situations where black drivers are harassed for minor issues while white drivers don’t get a second glance!”Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to DensityDuck says:

          While, hopefully as the ridiculousness of “Zero Tolerance” policies is exposed, we’ll move towards 100% Tolerance AKA getting rid of the law.

          I am well aware of the flaws in what I advocate for. My hope is that those flaws will be correctly assessed as inherent to the criminal justice system as constructed and will lead to major reform. If a system only avoids being bogged down because it works at 50% effectiveness, there is a problem with the system.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to DensityDuck says:

          This is because most ‘zero tolerance’ laws are about things that really really shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.

          For example, it is perfectly reasonable to have a school rule stating that students cannot carry heroin around. (Although I question why, exactly, you’d need that rule.) Saying they can’t carry aspirin? What _exactly_ are we attempting to stop here? Students taking aspirin? Uh, why do we care about that?

          There’s a line somewhere, but it should probably be ‘Students who have prescription drugs must keep them in the bottle and turn in a copy of the prescription to the office. And students are prohibits from exchanging either prescription or over-the-counter drugs with other students. Dosages of common over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin or cough syrup are available in the nurse’s office if the student does not wish to bring them from home.’ or something like that. Not insane ‘ALL DRUGS GET YOU EXPELLED’ nonsense.

          Almost all ‘zero tolerance’ laws came about because someone pass a damn stupid law to start with, and the people in charge of enforcing it _saw_ how stupid it was and rarely enforced it.

          Idiotic solution: Make it non-optional to enforce it.
          Sane solution: Actually figure out that the law is dumb and perhaps needs remaking, or just getting rid of.

          Meanwhile, we need to get rid of 90% of prosecutorial discression, and make sure we _document_ the rest of it so we know when it’s clearly being applied against ‘undesirables’. The problem is when cops can just let ‘good’ people keep going and catch ‘bad’ people.

          If they actually have to put everyone in the system, and then note ‘But they assured me they didn’t know it was illegal, and swore they would stop, and I let them go with a warning.’, people can actually look at the record and say ‘Wait a minute, that happens 80% of the time when the guy is white, and 10% of the time when he’s black’.

          This is why I don’t have much issue about proprietorial discretion by actual prosecutors, or jury nullification. Once it makes it into the system, you can notice and fix imbalances. It’s when it’s a cop sitting there who pulls over black drivers going 10 over the limit, and white drivers only if they’re going 25, that we can’t see the issue.Report

  8. Avatar RTod says:

    “If all that were needed were common sense, there would be no need for a written law. And if all that were needed were a written law, then we would have no need of common sense. Clearly neither is the case.”

    Well and succinctly put.Report

  9. If a Canadian citizen illegally crossed the border to save his child from an alligator, that’s one thing, like do you run a red light with your mother dying of a heart attack in the car. Duh.

    Do you run the red light absent an emergency? No.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke says:

      If a Canadian citizen illegally crossed the border to save his child, you can just bet he’d get arrested. And some anti-immigration folks would say “Let’s do that to all of them.”

      Few run red lights absent an emergency. But I’ve noticed just about everyone speeds. Know what? That’s the law, too.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Few run red lights absent an emergency.

        All stop signs outlined in white, on the other hand, are optional.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “I’ve noticed just about everyone speeds. Know what? That’s the law, too.”

        Speed limits are typically set by conducting a radar survey of driver speeds, and setting the limit at the 85th-percentile speed. (At least in California, this is a matter of law; other places might just use this as practice.)

        So, just in case you aren’t clear, speed limits are intentionally set at a level where 15% of the surveyed drivers are breaking the law. It is assumed that people will drive faster than the limit.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I don’t think you’re showing sufficient respect for THE LAW.Report

        • > So, just in case you aren’t clear, speed limits are
          > intentionally set at a level where 15% of the
          > surveyed drivers are breaking the law.

          Or, one could also look at the same practice and say, “If 85% of drivers navigate this stretch of road at this speed, absent a very high rate of accidents in this zone it’s reasonable to assume that this is a safe baseline for a limit.”

          Or, “Speed limits are there to tell everyone what is a reasonable safe margin for pilot error”.

          I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.Report

          • OTOH, I’ve noticed based on my own experience — the perception of centrifugal force as I navigate a curve, the tactile sensations I get through the brake and accelerator, etc. — that the safe speed is usually considerably higher than the “suggested speed limit.” I suspect this is a case of the tacit or distributed knowledge of the users being superior to that of people who do a fly-by assessment and impose rules from outside.Report

            • Avatar patrick in reply to Kevin Carson says:

              I’d agree, but the “safe” speed also takes into account traffic, which most drivers do not.

              Does anyone actually drive according to physics? Because I’ve *never* seen anyone follow reasonable distance guidelines.

              People always assume the other cars are going to act predictably. This is why we have (relatively) many fatalities on the road.Report

              • Avatar Kevin Carson in reply to patrick says:

                I’m actually pretty much of a Creeping Jesus when it comes to staying off other people’s tails. But most of the “suggested speed” signs I’ve seen are on the twisting old Highway 71 that runs through the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. Since it’s been relegated to a “scenic route” and most traffic has rerouted to the much straighter and higher-capacity 471, I’m usually one of the few people on the road.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

      And if a Mexican citizen illegally crossed the border to save his child from malnutrition, then what?Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    You know, if you think that there shouldn’t be access controls at a country’s border, you could just say that. It doesn’t make you look smart when you pull this Glenn Beck shit and twist a case of bloody-minded bureaucratic prosecutorial overreach into a lame attempt at a rhetorical “gotcha”.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

      All I am trying to point out here is that virtually no one takes “it’s the law” to be the end of moral reasoning. Why should it be that way on immigration in particular? That’s what I’d like to know.

      I’m not making an analogy between crossing the border and entering the school bus. I’m making an analogy between one “it’s the law” argument and another.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Dumb people make dumb arguments, film at eleven. Why are you so insistent that we all help you burn this strawman?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

          So sit it out if you feel like. I’m glad you see my point though — this argument, which we’ve all heard before, is dumb.Report

          • Valjean stole the bread. That does not make the law unjust. Law cannot always be both normative and provide for lifeboat rules simultaneously. Here we have a not-bad law to keep creeps off the bus met with an emergency situation.

            As for any possible nexus of illegal immigration and speeding, a possible explanation occurs for why I see some south-of-the-border-looking fellows driving so conspicuously slow here in California. Perhaps it’s illegal status that obliges them not to speed with the impunity that many legal residents do. Kind of a Freakonomics/unintended consequence thing.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    PS it’s entirely possible that the mother wouldn’t have gotten in trouble if she hadn’t said the bus driver was a fucking cunt and then tried to get her fired. It’s not like she stepped off the bus and was immediately handcuffed.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

      If someone got between me and my dying child, they would be lucky to escape with only a few harsh words.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So “immediate hazard” is a justification for breaking any law, and an excuse for any kind of aggressive, antisocial, or inappropriate behavior?

        Or am I just “not understanding you” again?Report

        • Avatar RTod in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Do you have kids?Report

          • Avatar mark boggs in reply to RTod says:

            Yeah, but she called the driver a “fishing cunt!!” There were children on that bus that had to listen to those filthy, anti-social words. Actual live children, not the dying one, whose ears and lives will truly never be the same.Report

            • Avatar RTod in reply to mark boggs says:

              If only we could find a way to curse at just those children who are dying.

              (also, how weird are we at this site that we self regulate with fish but whip cunt right out?)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

                Read that last sentence pretending not to know that we use “fish” as a euphemism.Report

              • Avatar mark boggs in reply to RTod says:

                I’m not sure I ever wanna see somebody whip their cunt right out. They aren’t supposed to be whippable, are they? I think that’s a medical condition requiring immediate attention. What say you, Russell Saunders, MD?Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Aggressive, antisocial, inappropriate =/= illegalReport

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

          So “immediate hazard” is a justification for breaking any law, and an excuse for any kind of aggressive, antisocial, or inappropriate behavior?

          Or am I just “not understanding you” again?

          Very often yes, in certain well-defined contexts. Even a cursory glance at the principles of common law can back this up.

          Is it murder? Not if it’s self-defense.
          Is it theft? Not if you break into that mountaintop cabin to keep yourself alive in a blizzard.

          Et cetera et cetera.Report

          • Avatar BSK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Jason-

            While I agree with your general sentiment here, I’m not sure those situations are exactly analogous.

            Murder is illegal. Killing is not necessarily so. Someone who acted in self-defense did, by many definitions, not murder anyone. It is not a justified murder, but a justified killing.

            Theft (or more accurately in your scenario, trespassing) is defined by the victim. If I welcome you into my home, you have not trespassed or broken a law. If someone breaks into my cabin during a blizzard and otherwise handles himself peaceably while there, I would consider him welcome. However, if I didn’t, would I really have no legal grounds to expel him? I’m not sure the risk in that situation mitigates the crime.

            Perhaps this is all semantics, but isn’t the law?Report

  12. Avatar Pendulum says:

    I didn’t read through the 67 comments, but has someone pointed out that the school bus entry is not “against the law”?

    Affirmative defenses are a well-established hurdle to overcome before conduct can be properly said to be “against the law” (as opposed to “violating the text of a statute”). The mother is entitled to the affirmative defense of Choice of Evils (or, alternatively, Necessity). To entitle a defendant to Choice of Evils, the defendant acknowledges that there has been a violation of a law, but that the violation was necessary to prevent an evil that society acknowledges as a far greater evil*. This is almost certainly the case here; and thus fully excuses the defendant from criminal culpability.

    Of course, the next step is to acknowledge that affirmative defenses are in wide-scale disuse and have nowhere near the scope that they are intended to have. But this remains a rare exception where affirmative defenses would still apply.

    *whether one is or is not a greater evil is a decision for the jury.Report

    • Avatar BSK in reply to Pendulum says:

      Pendulum-

      What is the potential for abuse of the “Choice of Evils” defense? Can I punch you in the face if you are winding up to punch two others in the face? How imminent must the other danger be? How probable must it be? Must I exhaust other possibilities first?

      I appreciate your explanation here and think that there are obvious cases, such as this, where just such a defense is entirely justified. But I worry that there is a high potential for abuse.Report

  13. That’s why I get so sick of hearing that “law-abiding citizen” crap in the NRA’s propaganda line. My standard response to “it’s the law” is “Fuck the law!” or “I wipe my ass with the law!”

    “It’s not just a good idea — it’s the law!” If I’m satisfied that it’s a good idea in terms of my own standards of logic and evidence, I’ll be doing it anyway. If it’s a bad idea, I don’t CARE if it’s the law.

    I once got a stern throat-clearing from the clerk at a garden supply store when, reading the “It’s a violation of U.S. law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its purpose” disclaimer, I said “I’ll put it on my fuckin’ corn flakes if I want.”Report

    • Oh, Mr. Carson, I’d pay to see you take yr act to Mexico: “Visas? We ain’t got no visas. We don’t need no visas! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ visas!”Report

      • When there’s an armed person in uniform in my presence, I comply with the law until they’re gone. I feel no moral obligation to obey “the law” as such. 99% of the time, there’s no one monitoring to verify compliance — “the law” depends almost entirely on internalized conditioning and self-enforcement.Report

        • Mr. Carson, tell that to the federales asking to see your visa.

          Your reply is a non-sequitur: Everyone who flouts the law does so with impunity, until he’s caught. By the aforementioned guys with guns.

          I do appreciate your point, tho. Sometimes I throw my empties in the regular trash instead of the recycle bin. I’m a bit of a rebel, too. Up the establishment!Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Meh… I love me a good rebel, but when you start out describing your outlaw bonafides with “when that garden store clerk…” I have a hard time not giggling.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

              What’s with the passive-aggressive “meh” retort around here lately, RTod? I don’t throw my empty beer cans in the recycle bin, but in the regular trash! I light a smoke before I’ve even left the building! [Only if nobody’s looking and it’s within 5 ft of the exit, but even still.]

              I park my SUV in spaces marked “COMPACT.” There, I said it! Not only do I own an SUV but I park it where it’s not supposed to be.

              OK, our other car is a Prius and I drove a ’91 Civic until last year when it finally fell apart. With no air-conditioning. In Southern California. But I’m a rebel, dammit, a rebel, RTod!

              Stop torturing me!Report

              • And yes, I told the garden-store clerk to piss off too, so there. And I once threw insecticides and paint cans in the recycle bin.

                Omigod, RTod, you just make a man bare his soul. How do you do it?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, you’ll appreciate this. One time I got a wild hair and walked away from my truck while ‘fueling’. Just cuz.

                Viva la revolucion!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

                On a plane trip last month, I got up and used the restroom even though the “fasten seatbelt” sign was on. And on the way back, I took an extra bottle of water!

                OK, that was after the stewardess asked “Would you like some to drink, dear?” Still.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Me too. And I’ve been known to really push the outer limits of returning my seat back to it’s upright position. You know, like waiting … and waiting …

                That always feel like puttin a dagger to the man.Report

          • Well, when you’ve ripped off that mattress tag that says “Do not remove under penalty of law,” you can come back and talk.

            Seriously, I didn’t intend my original comment as a statement on my street cred as a “rebel,” or my fearlessness in flouting the law, but as a comment on the moral authority of the law. I simply can’t understand people (like critics of that woman on the bus) who see the fact that she “broke THE LAW” — gasp!– as presenting some sort of serious moral issue. The mentality of a person who actually sees doing something that’s malum prohibitum — as opposed to malum in se — as a stumbling block is completely alien to me. If something doesn’t pass the test of reason, authority doesn’t add anything to it no matter how deep you pile it up.Report

      • Avatar patrick in reply to tom van dyke says:

        > Oh, Mr. Carson, I’d pay to see you take yr act
        > to Mexico: “Visas? We ain’t got no visas. We
        > don’t need no visas! I don’t have to show you
        > any stinkin’ visas!”

        I dunno about Mexico, but I just spent three weeks drinking beer with an expat New Zealander who currently resides and does business in Bolivia. We had some interesting conversations regarding federal regulations.

        The flip side to systems like ours is more likely to resemble that than what you’re describing here, Tom.

        You can flaunt the law all you want in many countries. You just have to pay the bribe when you get caught. We don’t do that here, but it’s common practice elsewhere. Certainly more common than taking a bullet from the Gestapo.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kevin Carson says:

      You’re mighty tough in cyberspace, flame-boy.Report

  14. Avatar Eric H says:

    Good FSM, people. This is so not even a new idea that there’s even Latin lingo to express it. Shorter Jason: Malum in se is not malum prohibitum. Got that from a book written by a former prosecutor who was noting that drug laws are pretty ridiculous, as we learned in Prohibition.

    I propose that from now on, anyone who speeds, or drives with an expired license, registration, or insurance for even 1 nanosecond be called “an illegal” on the same basis that we call foreigners who come here to work (yes, to work), “illegals”. And not just at the time: from then on.

    Not a few of those who are being obtuse on this point might self-identify as conservatives. There was a time when conservatism meant understanding that (1) everything the government said was wrong was not necessarily wrong (remember your Paine?), (2) wanting to come here from some FSM-forsaken Third World quasi-communist country to enjoy The American Dream was a good thing and also closely associated with “work” (remember your Weber?), and (3) there are at any given time post-FDR so many laws that the probability that everyone was in violation of at least one of them is rapidly approaching 1 (remember your Friedman?).Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Eric H says:

      EricH, you’re using a lot of shorthand so I meself have no bloody idea what yr saying and where yr sentiments lie.

      But I like the buzz so far. And yr arguments are more important than where yr sentiments lie. LOOG got moral sentiments coming out the wazoo, disguised as arguments. Only the best know & show the difference.Report

      • Avatar Eric H in reply to tom van dyke says:

        FSM = Flying Spaghetti Monster, the one true G-d
        FDR = Roosevelt
        Latin lingo = impressive language
        Prohibition = attempted better living thru legislation
        nanosecond = typical time spent thinking before voting
        obtuse = angle greater than 90 degrees but less than 180
        Third World = any country that doesn’t speak English — plus India and China despite their English proficiency
        quasi-communist = not the United States except California, especially if there are brown skinned people trying to emigrate from there or if they think pot and bare boobs are lower risk to your kids than guns and it’s okay to subsidize trains as well as cars
        work = stuff I shouldn’t have to do to become a billionaire
        Paine = revolutionary
        Weber = sociologist
        Friedman = Uncle Milty

        Sentiments? Calling people “illegals” because they didn’t want to wait in line is stupid. We don’t apply it to everyone who resents the TSA, why should we apply it to people who want to work?

        Aw, crap, there’s another one:
        TSA = Department of Security TheatreReport