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A Lot of Laws

Courts of all jurisdictions, legislatures of all levels, and administrative agencies of all types keep churning out law after law, filling vast libraries and computer databases, keeping the law schools humming. America’s most beloved literary figure, Mark Twain, once wrote on the subject, “If you laid all our laws end to end, there would be no end.”

In Guilford, Connecticut, for example, only white lights are permitted on Christmas displays. This may initially seem like a law for one of those “silly laws” compilations, but it is indicative of the intrusion of the law into daily life. Similar laws in other communities regulate the color you may paint your house, or require that you mow your lawn, all with the aim of maintaining community standards. Zoning laws in so many communities drastically restrict how you use your property. Environmental laws, although ostensibly designed to protect the public in general, are often arbitrary, ineffective, and costly to observe.

“There ought to be a law” is a common American expression of displeasure. All too often, in every little corner of American life, there is a law. Within the city limits of Carmel, California, women may not wear high-heeled shoes. In Blythe, California, you must own at least two cows in order to wear cowboy boots. In El Paso, Texas, a woman can be arrested for wearing a short dress. In Florida, you may not sing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit. It seems even basic fashion is not immune from the lawmaking.

In New York, it is illegal to smoke within 100 feet of a public building. In Florida, the doors of all public buildings must open out. In Massachusetts, tomatoes may not be legally used to make clam chowder (as the traditional “New England” clam chowder is milk or cream based). Massachusetts still has laws on its books, dating from the 17th century, banning witches and Quakers. It is clear that in the United States, if the law can reach any area of life, from the corporate boardroom to the marital bedroom, it will find a way.

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