Most people favor a society that is guided by law and order. We know that we cannot allow everyone to do their own thing without any regard for the impact of their actions on others. At the same time, we sometimes cringe at the impact and implications of quirky laws that seem intrusive on our own interests, behaviors, or practices.
A lot of people in our society are concerned about the matter of illegal aliens. Others defend a more lenient policy that allows the “illegal” aspect to be overlooked in the interests of opening our society to people who share our common interest in freedom, self-fulfillment, and economic advancement. The simple matter is that “illegal” is “illegal”; and once you close you eyes to keeping the law, the basic premise of law and order begins to disintegrate.
Similar concerns can be found in numerous areas. Let me identify three others.
· Many in our society are concerned about the integrity of our system of voting. Recognizing that the very foundation of our democracy cannot stand if the will of the people is distorted by votes cast illegally, these advocates of election integrity want all voters to register to vote personally and to prove their identity when they vote. That seems a small matter when confidence in our democratic process is at stake.
· Many municipalities have installed cameras at intersections where traffic accidents occur frequently. These cameras take pictures of vehicles that run red lights, and the owner of those vehicles are then ticketed by mail for the traffic violation. While many complain that this practice is designed to generate revenue for the municipality, the fact is that a basic law that protects the safety of people operating motor vehicles on our streets is frequently being breached. Ignoring traffic signals raises the threat of injury to innocent drivers and their passengers.
· Almost every road in America has a posted speed limit. Speed limits are imposed in an effort to improve the safety of all people traveling on public roads. Excessive speed raises the danger of accidents, endangers drivers and passengers in the speeding vehicle, and exposes law-abiding motorists to higher risks of accidents, injuries, and even death.
If you were asked to rank the importance of these four laws (illegal aliens, voter ID, running traffic lights, and speeding), you likely would rank those that have the least impact on you higher than those that you think are intrusive on your freedoms. The reality is that the law is the law. If our society is tolerant of breeches in its laws at any point, our system of justice for all is under threat. You might want all illegal aliens to be tracked down and deported, but you don’t want traffic cameras catching you running a red light or speed traps catching you speeding. This unequal application of the law, however, is the basis for undermining the entire integrity of our legal system. Just because you think one law is picky and narrow and should be ignored will not exempt you from charges of vehicular homicide if you run a red light or crash into another vehicle as your cut back and forth between lanes of traffic while trying to get to your destination more quickly. In those cases, the consequences of the illegal action is considerably higher than, say, illegal aliens or checking voter IDs.
When citizens blatantly ignore laws, they are undermining the basic foundations of our law and order society. The reality is that we want the authorities to focus on the illegalities in which we are not involved rather than on the illegalities that we think are minor and unimportant. Our law enforcement agencies have to make difficult choices in deciding where to focus their energies. Those choices often are influenced by the priorities of the constituencies they represent. This leads to ignoring violations that are “minor” in the view of the constituents.
One major problem that this approach raises is that research has generally shown that when law enforcement focuses on minor infractions, a significant drop occurs in major infractions as well. For example, when law enforcement cracked down on NY subway passengers who jumped the turnstiles and didn’t pay the subway fare, the incidents of other crimes in the subway dropped dramatically. Law-abiding subway travelers were not affected by the crackdown on paying subway fares, but everyone benefited from the drop in crime.