Time to Prune the Tree: The Need to Repeal Unnecessary Criminal Laws

An elementary rule of constitutional law is that the government must afford the public fair notice of the conduct defined as criminal so that the average person, without resort to legal advice, can comply with the law. Archaic criminal laws can therefore create a serious notice problem. Policies embodied in two bills currently pending before Congress are steps in the right direction. H.R. 4023 would repeal specific federal statutes that attach criminal penalties to trivial conduct, and H.R. 4003 would require federal agencies to provide a list of and justification for all rules and regulations that carry criminal penalties. Only Congress has the constitutional authority to repeal federal crimes that punish actions that are no longer considered inherently blameworthy and therefore deserving of society’s most severe form of condemnation. Common sense demands that legislators should exercise that prerogative.

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