California Court Makes Perplexing Ruling
Article from Reason by Scott Shackford.
Just because a law is impossible to follow is not enough of a reason for a court to throw it out. So California’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
On the face the ruling sounds utterly absurd, but there’s a deeper explanation that makes it a little less silly and much more deeply concerning about the deference granted to lawmakers.
Some context: California passed a law a decade ago that demanded gun manufacturers implement microstamping technology that would imprint identifying information on bullets as they were shot from semi-automatic weapons. Gun manufacturers say the technology hasn’t advanced enough to comply with the law. Smith & Wesson announced in 2014 that they would be pulling some guns from the market in California rather than complying with the law (a cynic might theorize that this is the law’s actual intent).
Not only did the California Supreme Court rule that it cannot invalidate the law, but it ruled so unanimously. To be clear: The court does not suggest that people can face punishment for being unable to comply with impossible laws. Instead, the court says, “impossibility can occasionally excuse noncompliance with a statute, but in such circumstances, the excusal constitutes an interpretation of the statute in accordance with the Legislature’s intent, not an invalidation of the law.” Essentially, it’s not unconstitutional to pass impossible laws, but the courts can exempt people from the consequences of those laws without overturning the laws themselves.
Read the entire article at Reason.
Image Credit: By Henri Sivonen from Helsinki, Finland (flickr: California State Capitol) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons