When I visited Italy last semester, I went to the beautiful island of Capri, where one can find the famed Blue Grotto. Usually, to see the grotto, one would have to pay a dude with a boat to take them inside. But because I was almost out of money, I wanted to swim inside once all the boats had left — for free. I searched the Internet to find people who had done this to make sure it was safe, and I discovered that it was perfectly hazard-free, but also illegal. One commenter, however, suggested that swimming in the Blue Grotto was not actually illegal, but instead just “Italian Illegal.”
By this post, the commenter referenced the plethora of Italian laws that outlawed something that was done all the time with no consequences, even if confronted by the police.
For instance, when you get off the train in Naples and someone shoves an iPad in your face that may have been stolen, that’s illegal. But enough greasy-haired men offered me “special price, just for you, because you so savvy,” that I got the feeling it was done all the time.
One of the things that made the United States different from other countries at its inception was that it was governed by the rule of law, and not the rule of rulers.
That’s why our carefully limited executive branch enforces laws, but doesn’t legislate. Then, when the executive branch messes up, it’s held in check by both elections and the judicial system.
Recently, the rule of law has eroded in this country. In response to the discriminatory laws pushed in Arizona and Kansas, attorney general Eric Holder told the attorneys general of other states that they didn’t have to defend such laws if they didn’t believe in them.
While noble, the job of the attorney general is to uphold the law of the land, and ignoring that job for one law sets a very dangerous precedent. If attorneys general can ignore one law, why not any law? Additionally, President Obama’s many changes to the Affordable Care Act raise questions. The act mandates that employers with over 50 employees provide health insurance to all full-time employees starting in 2014.
Last year, Obama changed this provision so that employers don’t have to start providing coverage until 2015. Policies would start getting canceled in October 2014 — as they started getting canceled for individuals in October 2013 when the individual mandate kicked in — and small businesses would be transitioned to federal exchanges.
Then, Obama changed the provision again so that companies didn’t have to start providing coverage until 2016, conveniently after 2014 midterm elections. Even in 2016, companies only have to cover 90 percent of their employees.
This precedent gives any future president the ability to delay the employer mandate even longer. Why not? If a Republican president gets elected in 2016, there’s ample precedent for him to delay the employer mandate indefinitely. He could even delay the individual mandate if he wanted to. In fact, he could just amend the act into oblivion via executive order.
As much as I’d love for that to happen, that’s not how the rule of law works. A new leader shouldn’t be able to change whatever laws he or she wants whenever he or she desires. While it sounds nice on the surface to just ignore discriminatory acts, or delay unpopular provisions of laws until after elections, that’s not how an effective democracy is run.
John Adams wrote about this topic extensively. As an ardent Federalist, he believed that a government with more power could use it constructively to do good for the people, but he believed in checks and balances so that this power couldn’t run amok and turn into tyranny. He called the government one “of laws, rather than a government of men.” Our government is becoming a government of men, and we’re not far from creating a class of laws that don’t make actions illegal, just, “American Illegal.”