South Carolina’s Brilliant/Ridiculous Law

I haven’t decided if it is unethical for a state legislature to pass laws that are so ridiculous that they undermine the legitimacy of democratic government, but if it is, then South Carolina meets the standard.

A new law is now on the books there, called the “Subversive Activities Registration Act.” It requires terrorists in South Carolina to register with the S.C. Secretary of State’s office before they start plotting to violently overthrow the government, or risk a $25,000 fine:

“Every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States, of this State or of any political subdivision thereof by force or violence or other unlawful means, who resides, transacts any business or attempts to influence political action in this State, shall register with the Secretary of State on the forms and at the times prescribed by him.”

But never fear, you terrorists: all you have to do is fill out this form, and send in your $5.00 processing fee.

On reflection, I think the statute is unethical, because its description of subversive organizations is so broad and confusing that it would be prudent for any member of a political party or employee of a foreign corporation to pay the $5.00 just to avoid the hassle of having to prove that the law is unconstitutional. Thus South Carolina can pick up millions of dollars thanks to a badly (but perhaps intentionally badly?) written law of dubious legality.

[The theory behind the registration requirement might be a slightly inflated version of the classic Depression-era vaudeville sketch, “Pay the Two Dollars!”written by Billy K. Wells. A man is unjustly fined $2.00 for spitting on the subway, but his lawyer insists that he plead innocent. As the court battle keeps incurring increasing penalties and greater expense, the man keeps begging his lawyer, “Pay the two dollars!” ]

(Ethics Alarms thanks  Popehat for finding this.)

10 thoughts on “South Carolina’s Brilliant/Ridiculous Law

  1. So, basically, if one were to blow up a municipal building because they didn’t agree with their lab-rat testing, they would be advised to plead insanity rather than tout their ideology. If they stated reasons why they blew up the building, they would open themselves up to a $25,000 fine. Right?

  2. This reminds me of the city of Ann Arbor enacting a city ordinance that authorized a $100 fine for detonating a nuclear weapon within the city limits. What a waste of paper and time. For perspective, littering was a $100 fine as well and possession of marijuana was $5.

  3. He seems to be sure. He’s been in office for a year and he had his staff do the research on it. I seem to recall reading a law like that years ago when I first started in law enforcement, but I could be mistaken about that part…


  4. Pingback: Correction: S.C. Law Still Ridiculous, But Not Brilliant « Ethics Alarms

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