It’s illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs in Arizona. Sound familiar? It should. This choice nugget is just one of many absurd laws that politicians have been able to dream up. There are so many of them — and so many of them are so absurd — that a book about these laws made the rounds back in the ’90s.
In Utah, you can’t fish from horseback. Mobile, Alabama bans the sale of silly-string. For decades, Connecticut has regulated the bounciness — yes, bounciness — of pickles! You get the idea. Want more, there are plenty of others online.
Alas, these aren’t just historical oddities, nor has the well of ill-advised ideas run dry. For a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And for too many lawmakers, the solution for every problem — real or imagined — is a law that limits our freedom.
Arizona’s donkeys sleeping in bathtubs ordinance reveals a tendency for legislators to react to any controversy by succumbing to the call: “There ought to be a law.” The result of this thinking is that government forever grows and forever loses focus on its proper functions, like protecting individual rights, promoting public safety, and ensuring rule of law.
Take New York. To kick off the new year, state lawmakers, in their wisdom, are contemplating compelling some Chick-Fil-A restaurant locations to be open on Sundays. Never mind that the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing businesses to open in violation of their religious convictions.
Or that other restaurants exist in the Empire State happily serving chicken sandwiches on Sundays. Chick-Fil-A makes for a tasty culture war issue, so lawmakers are drawn to it . . . apparently like Arizona donkeys to bathtubs.
And after the Biden Administration proposed banning gas stoves last year, New York just went ahead and did it themselves. Unless lawsuits succeed or sanity prevails, New Yorkers will soon have to increase their use of electricity – adding to the burden of families already juggling rising food and energy costs.
Not to be outdone, some lawmakers are also trying to outlaw calling almond milk “almond milk” to save people from thinking nuts come from cows. In California, lawmakers want to ban people from putting up signs for lemonade stands and garage sales. Need more? How about a proposed law dictating the type of “on-hold” music companies can play when customers call. (Okay, that last one is Canada. But you get the point.)
Increasingly Americans are turning to the courts when lawmakers pass nonsensical laws that infringe on their freedoms. And courts are certainly part of the answer. But as the example of those long-established occupational licensing laws demonstrates, courts have their limits.
Courts routinely uphold these laws. But not because they believe they make sense, because judges naturally bend over backward to defer to lawmakers in order to appease the voters who elected them. If courts can dream up ANY “rational basis” for these laws, they’ll likely uphold them. The bar is incredibly low.
So instead of putting the burden on judges, let’s do our part. We did, after all, elect these people (at least the legislators we did elect, not the bureaucrats who sometimes act as though we did). And we can vote them out if we don’t like the pointless rules they’re making. Citizens don’t do the lawmakers, the courts, or the country any favor if we ask judges to babysit lawmakers (and we are, all of the time). Voters are the ones who should hold politicians accountable — not the court system.
As we move into 2024, the ask for our elected officials is simple – even if doing it well is hard. It’s to focus on their jobs. The job of the government is to keep our families and property safe; to ensure our civil liberties are defended. We want our politicians to spend our tax dollars prudently and keep inflation low. So just do that. And leave us to navigate the other daily pressures of life – like where to buy chicken sandwiches on Sundays, the qualifications of my florist, and where those donkeys like to sleep.