America Is A Nation of Laws, Not a Nation of Men

“A nation of laws” means that laws, not people, rule. Everyone is to be governed, regardless of their position; whether it is the most common American or Members of Congress, high-ranking bureaucrats or the President of the United States; all must be held to the just laws of America. No one is, or can be allowed to be, above the law.

Ok, I will pause here while you quit laughing….

Feel better?

This idea was paramount in the complex process of establishing the United States of America, whose brave leaders had put everything on the line to escape the tyranny and oppression of the British Crown.

The Founders wrote restrictions into the Constitution against bills or laws of attainder, which are laws that do not apply equally to everyone, but target specific persons or groups in their enforcement, and are also known as “bills of pains and penalties.” Buy, in the hands of corrupt officials, these laws could be used as a weapon that would give an incumbent politician a major advantage over anyone else.

There were over 44,000 new laws passed in 2014. Think about that for a second.

That brings up the question, how many laws are there? Care to guess?

The Law Library of Congress is asked that question all the time. The answer may surprise you.

At the reference desk, we are frequently asked to estimate the number of federal laws in force. However, trying to tally this number is nearly impossible.

If you think the answer to this question can be found in the volumes of the Statutes at Large, you are partially correct. The Statutes at Large is a compendium that includes all the federal laws passed by the U.S. Congress. However, a total count of laws passed does not account for the fact that some laws are completely new; some are passed to amend existing laws; and others completely repeal old laws. Moreover, this set does not include any case law or regulatory provisions that have the force of law.

In just the topic of United States Code they have 51 titles in multiple volumes. It would be very time consuming to go page by page to count each federal law, and it also does not include case law or regulatory provisions. They you can through in the state statutes.

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 effort is considered the most exhaustive attempt to count the number of federal laws. This effort came as part of a long and ultimately failed campaign to persuade Congress to revise the criminal code, which by the 1980s was scattered among 50 titles and 23,000 pages of federal law. This attempt failed and characterized this fruitless project: you will have died and been resurrected three times, and still not have an answer to this question.