The Law and Other Inanities
Originally published in the April 1980 issue of Senior Edition newspaper
Signs of the times: The March 22 edition of the Rocky Mountain News reported that the Colorado Housing Finance Authority was preparing to dole out $36.4 million in low-interest loans in April – by lottery. A housing lottery. I wonder what could be next. Pretty soon we’ll all be going to the supermarket, drawing a sealed envelope at the door, and if we have drawn a lucky number – guess what! It’s our day to shop.
I read the other day that Will Rogers once said that we would be the first nation ever to drive itself to the poorhouse in an automobile. We are also a nation that waits in long lines at drive-up banking windows with our engines running to deposit our deflated paychecks in the bank. In a few years when the Arabs own all the banks perhaps they will install self-serve gas pumps at the drive-up banking windows in order to facilitate the exchange of our money for their oil. Instead of paying for the gas right then, they’ll simply add a line to our deposit slips which reads “Less gas received.”
It is quite beyond my meager understanding of the world how we can speak abstractly about sending our sons and daughters to the Persian Gulf to die in defense of the American automobile and refuse to take meaningful steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It appears patently obvious to me that we need either to tax the price of gasoline to the point that we can’t afford not to conserve it, or ration it so that those of us who are able to conserve can see our “gas stamps” on the open market to those who can afford not to.
Lee Iacocca, that wizard of American free enterprise who convinced American taxpayers to lend him a billion plus dollars so he could send rebates to people who purchased Chrysler automobiles, came up with a novel and patently absurd suggestion a few weeks or months ago. That was to add a 10-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to finance rebates to persons who purchased American automobiles. I suppose next we will give rebates to addicts who purchase drug paraphernalia, free corkscrews to alcoholics, and surplus American grain to people who are on a diet.
Long ago in the days of my youth before ascending to this venerable profession, I attempted, without great success, to become a lawyer. Having dropped out of law school on two separate occasions, it always gives me a certain vicarious thrill to assay the damage which the venerables of that profession are wreaking upon the rest of us who lack the higher understanding requisite to inflicting legal abuse.
I am referring, in part, to the recent Supreme Court decision involving the Texas man who was convicted on three felony counts, of passing a bad check, failing to perform on a contract for services, plus one other similar horrendous crime, amounting to a total bad debt to society of $209.11, for which the man was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment required under Texas law for habitual felony offenders. Well, after spending seven years in prison (at a cost to the state probably exceeding $10,000 per year), the man finally got his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in its wisdom, denied the man’s appeal on the grounds that his life sentence did not violate the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
I mean – they have got to be kidding. I don’t mean to condone petty theft. Certainly no less do I condone cruel and unusual punishment. If the poor man ever does get out of prison he’ll probably have to spend the rest of life working to pay off the legal bills he racked up in order to perpetuate his name on this landmark decision in the annals of American jurisprudence.
I also wish to take note of a recent decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, upholding the state’s fornication law, ruling that the “right of privacy” of unmarried people does not include having private consensual sexual activities.”
Well, if that isn’t private, pray tell – what is?
The only thing that surprises me about all of this is the judge didn’t sentence the privately “consensualating” couple to be flogged in the town square and displayed in the public stocks. It would give the U.S. Supreme Court a marvelous opportunity to uphold the decision and further delineate the legal subtleties surrounding the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
I have an old, January 15, 1916, copy of the Literary Digest, to which, on occasion, I refer, in order to give myself a long-range perspective on the world’s events. Nothing quite so well sums up my feelings about the inanities of The Law as the following. Under “Topics in Brief,” the Digest quotes an editorial remark in the New York Morning Telegraph: “According to the finding of a New Jersey jury, the doctor who, after having performed an operation, sewed up a pair of forceps in the patient’s body, was not guilty of negligence, as charged. Apparently he left them there on purpose, so that they would be handy in case of further need of them.”