November 30, 2004
Expanding Federal Criminal Law
A post here on Nov. 25 mentioned, inter alia, Congressional consideration of a bill to criminalize interstate trafficking in horsemeat for human consumption. An article by Trent England and Paul Rosenzweig in The American Spectator notes: "Ironically, the 'American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act' is not about preventing the slaughter of horses. It does nothing to stop horses from being killed for dog food or glue or as a good Godfather-style warning. The Act would only outlaw the killing of, or commerce in, horses for 'human consumption.' A better name for the bill might be the 'More Horses for Glue Act.'" The ability, and eagerness, of Congress to criminalize more and more conduct seems inexhaustible, and a report by Prof. John Baker (LSU) for the Federalist Society, entitled Measuring the Explosive Growth of Federal Crime Legislation, tries to catalogue the scope of the federalization of criminal law. Prof. Baker's study notes,
• There are over 4,000 offenses that carry criminal penalties in the United States Code. This is a record number, and reflects a one-third increase since 1980.
• Previous studies conducted in 1989, 1996, and 1998 all reported "explosive" growth in the number of offenses created by Congress in the years since 1970. The rate of enactment has continued unabated since 1970.
• A review of Congressional enactments from the past seven years reveals that a very substantial number addresses environmental issues.