Monday, April 2, 2012

The Story of How Lawmakers Come to Make Flabbergastingly Bad Public Policy

The Trayvon Martin tragedy has been, and will likely continue to be, front page news. At the heart of the controversy is Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. This law results from a statute that reverses the Common Law principles of self-defense law that had been forged in case after case over hundreds of years. The legislative interference results in a legal doctrine that undoes a Common Law rule representing the applied wisdom of judges and justices after considering thousands and thousands of factual scenarios in order to promote a safe and civilized society.  The reports:

“The law would appear to allow a person to seek out an individual, provoke him into a confrontation, then shoot and kill him if he goes for his gun,” Judge Terry Lewis said .... “Contrary to the State’s assertion, it is very much like the Wild West.”

Judge Lewis' quote in response to a case upon which he presided arising out of a killing in 2008, now rings eerily prophetic as the details of the Martin-Zimmerman interaction are revealed. So, what would cause a legislature to adopt such a stupefyingly bad public policy.  The short answer as reported by the is lobbying; lobbying riding a wave of fear mongering and public cynicism.  Read here an article detailing the efforts of past NRA president Marian Hammer to ensure passage of this bill.  Read here an editorial from the NY Times outlining lobbying efforts affecting "stand your ground" and other laws.

This story prompts us to ask students to consider where law comes from. Too often, student perceive law as some sort of immutable truth of right and wrong.  The story of this law's adoption, and the resulting tragic circumstances illustrate for students that the law is nothing more than what the lawmakers say it is.  It is not the spontaneous application of universal moral truths, but rather, can be nothing more than the result of poor decisions made by imperfect humans worried about their re-election to jobs which they poorly perform.

See also: The Legislative Process. 

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