Criminal Law, Legal Practice, News Media, Social Media

Cafeteria Style Law Enforcement: The Idea That We Can Pick And Choose Which Laws To Follow Or Enforce


Should you have to follow a law that you don’t believe is “just” or “righteous” or even constitutional?  If so, should someone else have to follow a law just because you think it IS valid?  These questions seem to be more and more prevalent in today’s society.  Who should decide what laws to follow and when should the answer be final?

In recent days, county clerks around the country have refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, stating that it would violate their beliefs, despite the Supreme Court stating that to do so is unconstitutional.  In May 2015, during the height of civil unrest, Baltimore’s Mayor issued a city-wide curfew.  Many protesters chose to challenge the police each night, after the curfew time, on the basis that the curfew was illegal and unconstitutional.  Even Presidents have been involved in these issues.  Both President Bush and President Obama have each been criticized for failing to enforce laws passed by Congress.

In any debate, there will be at least 2 differing opinions.  The issue here is should we, as individuals, get to pick and choose which rules or laws we have to follow?  If so, which laws are subject to interpretation?  If you argue that the Baltimore City curfew law violates your rights and you should be able to ignore it, does the neighbor down the street get to argue that the noise violation laws violate his rights he should be able to play his stereo as loud as he wants at whatever time of night he chooses?  Does the owner of the corvette get to decide that the speed limit violates his rights?  Do police officers get to decide that the warrant requirements are too restrictive and start searching you without your consent or a warrant?

The problem lies in where you draw the line.  There has to be a point of finality somewhere.  I advise clients that if you don’t believe a law is constitutional, then we can challenge it in court.  But, if you knowingly violate a law just because you don’t think it is valid, constitutional or should apply to you, then you could be stuck with the consequences for the rest of your life.  But, if you do choose to challenge a law, and you exhaust all the legal options including appeals, then whatever the final verdict is on the validity of the law must be clear and followed by everyone.

If we lived in a society where each individual was able to choose, on a law by law basis, whether a law was valid or applicable to them, then we might as well not have any laws at all.  Because, when you ended up being harmed by someone else’s actions, they could simply claim that the law preventing you from getting hurt just didn’t apply to them.

We live in a society where we set up a legal system to resolve disputes, both between individuals and also over the constitutionality of a law.  I have placed my faith in the system.  I have faith that the highly educated Judges who review legal proceedings do so based on the rule of law.  And, therefore when they make their decision that a law is constitutional or not, I know that I must follow their direction.  Sometimes I disagree with their decision, but until that decision is appealed and overturned, it is still the law.  To go against that idea is to allow chaos into our way of life and all rules become unenforceable.

In short, and this is just my opinion, if you think a law is unjust, invalid, or unconstitutional, then challenge it in the right way.  But, until the law is found to actually be wrong, you should be bound to follow it just as you would want everyone else to follow the laws that you think are right.


About jimcorleylaw

Maryland Attorney, focusing on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury cases. Centrally located in Baltimore County, near Towson.


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