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July 6, 2009

When bureaucrats re-write the law

Media Alert: Tuesday, 7:10 AM Central, Downsize DC President Jim Babka will be on The Morning Big Show with Mike Cope and James Williams, KXYL, 96.9FM in Brownwood Texas. The live audio does not stream to the Net, but we’re told the interview will be posted to on the KXYL website after the fact.

Quote of the Day: “Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism” – Mary McCarthy

Subject: When bureaucrats rewrite the law

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Customs) has proposed a ruling that would re-define “switchblade” to include all pocket knives that can be opened with one hand. In doing so, they are arbitrarily reversing their own previous rulings. Worse, they are ignoring Congressional intent, will throw thousands out of work, endanger tradesmen and outdoorsmen, and make potential felons of tens of millions of Americans. It is just the latest reason we must pass the Write the Laws Act and prevent unelected bureaucrats from making law.

In 1958, Congress banned the possession of switchblades on federal lands, as well as the interstate sales of switchblades. This was a bad and unnecessary law, but it wasn’t ambiguous. Congress was quite specific in defining what they meant by switchblade – “any knife having a blade which opens automatically— (1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or (2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.” 

As the lawyers for Knife Rights, Inc. say, “Congress did not ban knives which contain springs. It could have, but did not. Congress did not broadly ban any knife that could be opened with one hand. It could have, but did not. The definition (of ‘switchblade’) is not nearly that broad.”

Yet, Customs is determined to classify these knives as switchblades. While Customs’ ruling applies to imports, its interpretation of the law and its definition of “switchblade” will be seen as binding in the federal courts and many state jurisdictions

Even though,

  • there’s no evidence these knives are often misused as criminal weapons
  • tens of millions of Americans use these knives at work or outdoors
  • there are numerous instances where one must hold onto an object with one hand and access a knife with the other
  • in case of a fall or other accident, an enclosed pocket knife is much safer than a sheathed knife
  • manufacturers of such knives employ thousands of people

Moreover, this is an abrupt reversal of Customs’ own previous rulings. This change is legally dangerous to individual Americans. Words have meanings, and Customs isn’t changing the actual words, just how they’ll define them. Individuals who think they know what the law says may be innocently unaware of the latest bureaucratic rulings that change the meanings of words.

The good news is there’s growing opposition to the ruling . . .

But if the Write the Laws Act was in force, Customs wouldn’t have the discretion to arbitrarily re-interpret legislative language. The WTLA says that all bills will have rules “defining the specific conduct to be prohibited” (emphasis added) and prevents bureaucrats from prescribing any rule that goes beyond the legislative language.

The Senate will be considering the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill on July 7. The best opportunity to stop Customs is to tell the Senate to amend the bill to prevent Customs from implementing their switchblade ruling. We ask that you:

  • Send a message to Congress telling them to introduce the Write the Laws Act
  • Tell them about how the U.S. Customs and Border Protection switchblade ruling goes against the Congressional intent of the Switchblade Act
  • Remind them this bureaucratic mischief would not occur under the WTLA
  • And finally, instruct them to amend the DHS Appropriations bill to stop the Customs switchblade ruling from going into effect.

To exceed the number of messages DC Downsizers sent Congress last month, we must send 1,884 messages today.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President

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