A land of laws decays almost imperceptibly into a land of legalisms, which is why America has 50 percent of the world’s lawyers. Like most of his colleagues, lifetime legislator John Conyers (a congressman for 47 years) didn’t bother reading the 2,700-page health-care bill he voted for. As he said with disarming honesty, he wouldn’t understand it even if he did: “They get up and say, ‘Read the bill.’ What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”
It would be churlish to direct readers to the video posted on the Internet of Representative Conyers finding time to peruse a copy of Playboy while on a commuter flight to Detroit. So let’s take him at his word that it would be unreasonable to expect a legislator to know what it is he’s actually legislating into law. Who does read the thing? “What happened to the Eighth Amendment?” sighed Justice Scalia the other day. That’s the bit about cruel and unusual punishment. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages . . . ? Or do you expect us to give this function to our law clerks?”
He was making a narrow argument about “severability” — about whether the Court could junk the “individual mandate” but pick and choose what bits of Obamacare to keep. Yet he was unintentionally making a far more basic point: A 2,700-page law is not a “law” by any civilized understanding of the term. Law rests on the principle of equality before it. When a bill is 2,700 pages, there’s no equality: Instead, there’s a hierarchy of privilege micro-regulated by an unelected, unaccountable, unconstrained, unknown, and unnumbered bureaucracy. It’s not just that the legislators who legislate it don’t know what’s in it, nor that the citizens on the receiving end can never hope to understand it, but that even the nation’s most eminent judges acknowledge that it is beyond individual human comprehension. A 2,700-page law is, by definition, an affront to self-government.
If the Supreme Court really wished to perform a service, it would declare that henceforth no law can be longer than, say, 27 pages — or, at any rate, no longer than the copy of Playboy Congressman Conyers was reading on that commuter flight.
C’mon, Justice Kennedy. Obamacare v. Playboy: It would be a decision for the ages — and an act of bracing constitutional hygiene.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn