Before President Barack Obama took over the White House, no United States citizen had ever been forced by the federal government to buy a product against their will. But now, thanks to the passage of Obamacare, Americans, by dint of their mere existence, are now required to purchase Obama administration approved health insurance or face a penalty assessed through the Internal Revenue Code. This is simply unprecedented. The income tax doesn't kick in until an American earns income. Auto liability insurance doesn't become mandated until an American chooses to drive (and even then it's only by the state). And farmers must first grow food before they are subject to the regulations of the Department of Agriculture. But facing federal government sanction for simply breathing? That is a troubling assault on American liberty.
Unfortunately, Obamacare is just the latest example of the growing reach of the federal government into all aspects of our lives. While the final bill passed by Congress specifically made the noncompliance with an IRS individual mandate penalty not a crime, far too often when the spotlight of American attention is not focused on an issue, Congress has gone ahead and criminalized what was once before perfectly normal behavior. Consider, for example, small-time inventor and entrepreneur Krister Evertson, whose story is recounted by Heritage fellows Brian Walsh and Hans von Spakovsky:
In May 2004, FBI agents driving a black Suburban and wearing SWAT gear ran Evertson off the road near his mother's home in Wasilla, Alaska. When Evertson was face down on the pavement with automatic weapons trained on him, an FBI agent told him he was being arrested because he hadn't put a federally mandated sticker on a UPS package.
A jury in federal court in Alaska acquitted Evertson, but the feds weren't finished. They reached into their bag of over 4,500 federal crimes and found another ridiculous crime they could use to prosecute him: supposedly "abandoning" hazardous waste (actually storing, in appropriate containers, valuable materials he was using for the clean-fuel technology he was developing). A second jury convicted him, and he spent 21 months in an Oregon federal prison.
Putting the wrong stamp on a package. Storing your own property own your own land. When did these actions become federal crimes? Why? How can we stop them? A new book launched yesterday and published by The Heritage Foundation answers these questions. One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty documents how over the past 50 years the politicization of American criminal law and practice has created traps for millions of innocent and unwary Americans and threatens to make criminals out of those who are just doing their best to be respectable, law abiding citizens.
In 1998, an American Bar Association task force estimated that there were over 3,000 federal criminal offenses scattered throughout the 50 titles of the United States Code. Just six years later, that number is estimated to be over 4,000 and Columbia law professor John Coffee estimates that the federal government could use the criminal process to enforce as many as 300,000 federal regulations.
Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of the Soviet security and secret police under Stalin reputedly said, "Show me the man, and I'll find you the crime." Our country is by no means a Soviet police state yet, but a federal government empowered with a sprawling code that makes all of us potential criminals is more than just an existential threat to American Liberty. This overcriminalization trend must end. Become informed. Learn the issues. Buy the book. And fight back.