As I said earlier, I have a great respect for the law. And one of the elements of that respect is that I don’t like it cheapened with silly ideas. I’ve long argued that having unenforced or unenforceable laws simply breeds disrespect for all laws, and a bad law is worse than no law at all.
That is being demonstrated most ably right now in Chicago.
Last year, animal rights activists managed to get the city of Chicago to ban the sale of fois gras, saying that it was the product of animal cruelty. (I have never tasted it and have no interest in tasting it, so I feel like I can be a pretty decent “neutral party” on the matter.) The ordinance passed, and the city started sending out warning letters to restaurants that still served the forbidden food.
But no one is taking the matter seriously. Not the Health Department, charged with enforcing it, who have officially declared it their “lowest priority.” Not the restaurants, who either cleverly skirt the law (either offering it as “complimentary” with other dishes, or renaming it “special lobster” or some other dodge), ignore it, or celebrate their defiance. (One has their warning letter framed on the wall like a trophy or complimentary review.) And certainly not the patrons, who probably feel an illicit thrill whenever they order it.
It was a dumb idea when it was first proposed, and now it’s a dumb idea with the force of law behind it. But the law has no “force” behind it, because nobody cares about it. It’s just another of those laws that everyone ignores.
And every ignored law is one more chink in the armor that separates us from being a nation of laws instead a nation of chaos.
Yeah, it’s a silly, funny story. The Health Department is pretty much doing the right thing, putting their priorities into “protect(ing) human health and not the health of geese and ducks.” The violators of the law are being clever and inventive, doing what they should — giving the people what they want, in a safe and proper manner.
My solution would be for the Health Department to take a couple of its investigators and assign them full-time to enforcing it as rigorously as possible, while publicly declaring that it is only fulfilling its legal responsibility and hopes that those it is charging will fight the ordinance, and get it either repealed or struck down so they can get back to their real jobs. Because that’s how you fight dumb laws — you get rid of them, not ignore them.
But that approach would take time and money, time and money all parties involved would rather not spend, to undo the work of idiots with soft hearts and softer heads.
In the meantime, another law is treated like a joke by everyone involved. This time, it’s a law that deserves it. Will it be so next time?