Read the Bill, Or Not

I think I agree with Bartlett. These calls for lawmakers to read the bill — which started with the Patriot Act — are bit misguided. The bills are written in massive legalese and the final version is often wildly different from the early versions. There is little point in wasting their time on this.

I think these people are missing the forest for the trees. The problem with the bills isn’t that Congress Creatures don’t read them; the problem is that they are so complicated in the first place. The problem is that citizens are expected to have read these laws and may get fined or jailed if the violate Section (1), subsection 9, paragraphs 9, sentence 2, John 17:3. It’s almost as if the law were written in Martian — you’ll know when you’ve broken it when the cops arrest you.

Robert Heinlein once suggested that we needed a “Plain English Amendment” to the Constitution that would require laws to be comprehensible to educated citizens. He was thinking specifically of the tax code, which is so badly written that even the damned IRS doesn’t understand it. I’m sure there are big unintended consequences and 70 lawyers would be happy to tell me why laws have to be written in such legalistic jargon. But I still think Heinlein had a point. It’s not reasonable to expect citizens to have their own lawyers to interpret 2000 pages laws for them.

One Response to “Read the Bill, Or Not”

  1. rpl says:

    There is also the fact that legislation is often deliberately obfuscate. Consider the special pork for Louisiana in the health care legislation. They didn’t want to come right out and say that this was for Louisiana specifically, so they spent two pages describing Louisiana in a roundabout way. That contributes to legislative bloat, decreases transparency, and creates unintended loopholes in the law that is eventually passed.