Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.
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If you've ever had to work for someone else, you've probably been presented with a no-win situation of someone else's making. "Be promptly at your desk at 9 am," my boss ordered me. "We can't have customers calling at the start of business with no answer." Reasonable. But it was a two-man office — him and me — he had the only key and he was often late. When customers complained, he'd yell at me. "What would you have me do," I'd ask, "break in?" Unreasonable.
A lot of bosses are tyrants. But government should know better than to pass a law its citizens can't obey.
Like most cities, New York prohibits public urination. It's no longer a criminal offense, but it's still a ticket and a fine. The NYPD issues 20,000 to 30,000 such summons a year. Yet, as The New York Times noted in 2016, "New York City...is one of the most public-bathroom-resistant places in the world."
A city that chooses not to provide people with plentiful public restrooms knows that some folks won't find their way to Starbucks or other de facto public restrooms before it's too late.
Experts estimate that properly equipping Gotham's streets with the thousands of toilets necessary to serve the city's inhabitants and visitors would cost millions of dollars. Getting New York City to do the right thing by everyone with a bladder would require ratification of my proposed 28th Amendment.
If nothing else, those who answer nature's call in the streets and avenues could do so without fear.
Some people charged with a crime have successfully used the "necessity defense" that the harm they committed was necessary in order to avoid a greater wrong or harm. If you're trying to escape from someone trying to kill you, a judge should dismiss the charge that you trespassed on private property to get away.
Yet, even though it defies common sense, American law still permits government to pass laws that are impossible to follow. In June, the California Supreme Court ruled on a law requiring gunmakers to microstamp bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons with unique identifying information.
The court's ruling was complicated but it included this gem: "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." In other words, an impossible-to-follow law can be passed and no court can invalidate it. Each individual who wants to be exempted on the basis of impossibility must hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.
The Impossible Law Amendment would ensure that any law deemed impossible for any citizen to follow would be overturned on constitutional grounds.
Impossible-to-follow laws are more common than you might think.
The Affordable Care Act requires people to purchase health insurance from private for-profit corporations or get slapped with a fine when they file their annual tax returns.
The cheapest healthcare plans in the Obamacare marketplaces run around $1600 to $1800 in many counties. One out of four Americans say they can't afford healthcare. If the United States insists on spending tax dollars on blowing up brown people in Muslim countries rather than caring for its own sick people, that's a political priority this nation is free to select. But it's insane to charge people a fee for not buying something they can't afford. Punishment is immoral if there was no intent or desire to disobey the law.
The ILA would effectively eliminate an entire class of government fines for things people are mandated to buy but must have in order to live: motor vehicle registration fees, smog inspection fees, parking.
On July 27 The New York Times reported that parents, usually mothers, are routinely arrested and have their children taken away from them by child-welfare authorities, because they can't afford daycare and so are found guilty of such "abusive" behavior as leaving their kid in the car for a few minutes while running into a store.
Children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, so it reasonable for the police to be concerned when they come across a possible case of neglect. But society should not criminalize the behavior of people who have no other choice. Daycares run at about $200 per week per child. Individual average income runs about $500 a week before taxes, or $350 after taxes. Unless the average American goes without food or shelter — which child-welfare authorities will look down upon at least much as leaving a kid in a car — he or she can't afford daycare. In many other (civilized) countries, of course, daycare is provided gratis by the government.
If and when the U.S. provides daycare for all, it may prosecute parents for refusing to use it.
A government that passes laws that anyone — much less a significant portion of the population — cannot obey, yet imposes fines and jail terms, deserves nothing but contempt. Ratify the ILA!
Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of "Francis: The People's Pope." You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.