How many federal laws are on the books? 500? 1,000? 5,000? Go ahead, take a guess.
Yeah, well, so does the Library of Congress. In an attempt to answer the frequent question of how many federal laws there are, Senior Legal Research Specialist Shameema Rahman recently reported that “trying to tally this number is nearly impossible.” Well, that’s great. Congress has officially passed so many laws that their own repository of documentation can’t even keep track of them all.
As it turns out, the federal government hasn’t been able to keep track of their own laws for quite some time. Rahman reports that, “in an example of a failed attempt to tally up the number of laws on a specific subject area, in 1982 the Justice Department tried to determine the total number of criminal laws. In a project that lasted two years, the Department compiled a list of approximately 3,000 criminal offenses.”
This raised a question: should a truly free society should need a full two years to compile a list of the laws that could get you thrown in the slammer. And remember, this was 30 years ago. What are the chances that the number of federal laws has decreased since then? With the Democrats and Republicans competing to see which party can out-legislate the other, I’m going to say those chances are pretty slim.
Of course, there is some good news here. After all, how can the feds enforce all of their laws if they can’t even count them? As Judge Andrew Napolitano has repeatedly pointed out, the federal government doesn’t have the resources to enforce all of their laws and therefore rely on the states to do this for them. This report by the Library of Congress, seemingly straight out of the mind of Will Rogers, does succeed in driving home the point that the states can effectively nullify many unconstitutional laws by simply refusing to aid in their enforcement.