Secret Laws

I’ve long disagreed with the blanket statement “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” thinking that the government had some reasonable duty to make people aware of what the law is. Now, Kevin Drum reports that there are actually federal laws and/or regulations that are so secret that, even if you’re arrested for it, they won’t tell you what they are. Call me a bleeding heart if you must but, somehow, that strikes me as a bad idea.

Orin Kerr has more background on the particular instance that sparked Kevin’s interest, the various regulations enforced by TSA on who may get on commercial airlines and with what. I actually wrote about that one (based on a Slate article) back in September of 2004.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. NJ voter says:

    Oh you are such a “bleeding heart” worrier!

    These people are obviously terrorists. We know that they are terrorists. What kind of laws do we need to stop them? It’s that simple.

  2. McGehee says:

    …the government had some reasonable duty to make people aware of what the law is.

    And according to standing doctrine, the publication of the law in, for example, the Federal Register (and its state and local counterparts as appropriate), meets that duty.

    …there are actually federal laws and/or regulations that are so secret that, even if you’re arrested for it, they won’t tell you what they are.

    That, however, stinks to high heaven — if true. Even if the law in question has been published, criminal charges that don’t identify the law alleged to have been violated, is clearly a breach of due process.