Many are aware of the complexity of the U.S. legal code, and well aware that there are likely parts of it they are unfamiliar with. But historian David Barton on Tuesday said there is an enormous risk in having a extraordinarily lengthy legal code, and the average American could be committing three felonies a day without even knowing it.
Barton, the founder and president of Wallbuilders, cited a book by Harvey Silverglate with a forward by Alan Dershowitz called "Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent" during an interview with Glenn Beck.
"We all know ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you violate a law, you suffer the penalty for it," Barton said. "If you take the U.S. code as it exists right now, today, if you read 700 pages a week of the U.S. code, national calculations are that you can finish the U.S. code in only 25,000 years."
According to a Wall Street Journal article, there have been countless attempts to count the number of federal criminal laws alone, but Ronald Gainer, a retired Justice Department official, said "you will have died and resurrected three times" before you can figure out the answer.
Barton said many new laws don't actually go through Congress, but are regulatory laws passed by federal agencies.
"We had two years ago 3,700, about 3,710 laws pass that became federal law. Only 127 went through Congress," Barton said. "All the rest of them were regulatory laws. We've had 81,000 regulatory laws since '93."
Beck said it drives him "nuts" when people dismiss the NSA scandal, for instance, by saying "I'm not doing anything wrong, so what do I care?"
If someone in government wants to punish you, Beck has often said, the ever-multiplying number of laws and heightened domestic surveillance will enable them to get you for "something," though it may be an obscure technicality.
John Baker, a retired Louisiana State University law professor, made a similar comment to the Wall Street Journal: "There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. ... That is not an exaggeration."
Barton said conservatives and liberals are joining together to fight the "criminalization" of life in America, saying arguments often come back to "a law that says you should have a fair notice of what the law is before they nail you for it," and "the leniency principle, that [states] if there's two ways to interpret a law, you always assume innocence and you always go toward leniency."
"Now they go the opposite direction," he concluded.
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