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4th April 2009
The Five Worst Laws in US History
Posted by : admin
During the week, this blog is dedicated to providing legal information about both Thailand and the USA. However, on the weekend we like to write something that feels a little less like work. The following list is composed of laws that have been controversial over the years. It should be noted that many of these laws have had positive side effects, but overall, I felt that whatever benefit they conferred was outweighed by the harm they caused. Either that or I was trying to be funny (and probably failed), that being said, judge the following US Laws for yourself…
5. The Federal Income Tax Amendment
The next time you are frustrated at filling out your tax forms, just thank the American people at the turn of the century for voting in the Federal Income Tax Amendment.
Who enjoys paying their income tax? Well at one time in the United States federal income tax was unconstitutional. At some point around the 1900s some brilliant politicians decided that it was time this was remedied and put forward the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution, also known as the Federal Income Tax Amendment. This Amendment made it legal to levy a direct federal income tax upon the American Citizenry. The pertinent language in the Amendment reads:
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
Keep in mind the next time you pay your taxes that apparently at one point in America this seemed like a good idea. (In its defense, the Federal Income tax has decreased the massive disparities between rich and poor that caused much upheaval in the Early 20th Century, so it has had some positive effect, I just hate paying taxes).
4. The Smoot Hawley Tariff
In 1929, the prevailing wisdom regarding economic stimulus was something akin to an ostrich firmly planting its head in the sand. Apparently, the idea was that if the US raised its tariffs, then all other nations would simply be content to have no foothold in the American market, but not petition their own governments to enact the same tariffs in their countries. As it turned out, this economic reasoning was a tad shortsighted, to say the least.
The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Bill was signed into law on June 17, 1930. Its purpose was to raise US Tariffs on over 20,000 imports to unprecedented heights. At the time, more than 1,000 economists signed a petition denouncing the Tariff and, subsequent to the Bill’s passage, many European countries responded by drastically hiking tariffs on products manufactured in the USA, as a result, American imports and exports declined by nearly more than 50%. Contemporary economists argue that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was the driving force behind the steep decline in U.S. trade and one of the main precursors to the Great Depression.
3. The Alien and Sedition Acts
The Patriot act of its time, the Alien & Sedition Acts were actually enacted by the original Patriots in an effort to stifle domestic opponents to the sitting Administration. John Adams signed the bill into law at the behest of is Federalist comrades (keep this in mind when fawning over the late second President in the form of Paul Giamatti).
These acts were promulgated at a time in America when the ruling party was embroiled in a Quasi-war and felt the need to repress dissension among both Americans and “undesirable aliens.” Sound familiar? The most repugnant portion of the legislation made it a criminal offense to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government, its agents, or officials.
Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence (and all around pimp), passionately opposed the Act and even wrote state nullification legislation rejecting the bill as unconstitutional. The Act never was reviewed by the Supreme Court, but many legal scholars believe that it never would have withstood constitutional scrutiny.
2. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Lyndon Johnson was a master at manipulating the American legislative process for his own ends and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was possibly his masterpiece of political subterfuge. Framed as a seemingly limited and innocuous joint congressional resolution, the enactment gave the President the authority “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”
This Resolution was used as the legal reasoning behind the Administration’s use of armed force in Vietnam without an overt declaration of war by the US Congress.
In one of the few prescient quotes from an American politician, Senator Wayne Morse exclaimed, “I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake.” His feelings were vindicated, but only after thousands of lives were lost and American international credibility was drastically tarnished.
1. The Patriot Act
Quite possibly the single most despised piece of modern legislation since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, this law basically allows the US government to do whatever they want with regard to citizens and foreign nationals. An excerpt from Wikipedia sums it up nicely (if somewhat dispassionately):
“The Act increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eases restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expands the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and enhances the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expands the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.”
This law was passed by some of the widest margins in history and has subsequently become almost universally reviled proving once again that when unrestrained and fueled by fear a government can make some pretty rash and poor decisions. Hopefully, this act will one day be repealed and stand as a reminder that repressive and tyrannical laws are seldom the answer to safety issues.
Thanks for reading.
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