In the face of the spectacular collapse of the "repeal and reform" of Obamacare, it may comfort people of a Republican persuasion (and also anybody who likes a bit of schadenfreude) to know that spectacularly failed laws and bills that don't pass are hardly a new thing. They pop up with intense frequency throughout the history of most parliamentary democracies; but while most are defeated for prosaic reasons, like not having enough votes or being a bit unrealistic, others never get anywhere because they're, well, bonkers.
The laws that don't pass are sometimes less intriguing than the ones that actually do, but they certainly have adventures along the way, from attempting to stop women riding in chariots to trying to legislate a United States Of Earth. Sometimes, as with the bill proposed earlier this month by a Texan senator to penalize masturbation, bills are brought in for deliberate failure for the sake of publicity, but on other occasions they simply come from well-intentioned but slightly bizarre places.
The early 20th century Supreme Court Justice Curtis Bok once wryly noted that an ancient region of Greece may have had their own way of rooting out unintelligent bills and making people take the process seriously. "In ancient Locris," he wrote, "a man who proposed a law in the popular assembly did so with a rope around his neck. If his law passed, they removed the rope; if it failed, they removed the platform." Republicans are doubtless rather glad that law doesn't hold in the U.S at the moment. Let's have a look at some of the most ludicrous failed laws in history.
The One That Wanted A "United States Of Earth"
Ever wanted to amend the Constitution? You're not alone. Many people in and out of positions of power have decided that the basis for U.S. political power and institutions needs a bit of a brush-up. While amendments that succeed become justly famous, some of the unsuccessful ones should get a bit of fame too, if only because they're kind of pleasingly batty.
My favorite? A hopeful imperial ambition from the House of Representatives politician Lucas Miller in 1893. Before the World Wars hit, Miller was evidently a highly optimistic man, and proposed that the United States be renamed as "the United States of the Earth," because ”it is possible for the Republic to grow through the admission of new States into the Union until every Nation on Earth has become part of it.” Why he thought this name should be given before any of the growth had actually happened, and whether he believed that Americans taking over the world was simply inevitable, is lost to history.
The One That Tried To Prevent Christmas Altogether
The Puritans completely hated Christmas. That's a fact. What's interesting, however, is that they never really got around to trying to make it go away altogether. In the 1580s a prominent commentator had complained,
"That more mischief is at [Christmas] committed than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, whereby robbery whoredom, murder and what not is committed? What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used, more than in all the year besides, to the great dishonor of God and impoverishing of the realm."
The government of Oliver Cromwell did actually ban Christmas in 1647, with the Ordinance for Abolishing of Festivals, which said that instead of any festivals people could have the second Tuesday of the month off. Needless to say, it didn't work, and people kept on doing their Christmas thing in secret. When it came to 1656, the government discussed actually trying to clamp down on these illicit celebrations, presumably by going around knocking down Christmas trees and throwing out pudding. Perhaps for reasons of efficiency, though, the entire idea was abandoned, which is a good idea, because it probably would have led to Christmas riots.
The One That Wanted To Hold Immigrants' Families Hostage
In the second half of the French Revolution, France's laws were mostly decided by the Council Of 500, which would later be disbanded when Napoleon rode in and mounted a coup d'etat. It's interesting to political historians, but for our purposes one of the members is particularly notable, because he came up with a law that nobody should ever, ever tell Paul Ryan about.
Monsieur Berlier, or as he became known, Monsieur Hostage, was responsible for proposing a law that didn't get anywhere. He thought that it was a good idea to detain the entire families of immigrants as hostages, to make sure that "their conduct" remained impeccable, and to hold the families responsible if the immigrant in some way went wrong. It didn't pass, but another Law Of Hostages did, which was much more basic: people who were seen as threats to the Council's power were put on a list of hostages who were supposed to be hauled off so they couldn't do anything tricky. (Sadly, our immigration detention centers are not so much better.)
The One With A Sitcom-Style Marriage Contract
For most of Linda Larason's career in the House Of Representatives as an Oklahoma Democratic senator till 1994, she was focussed on helping out the criminal justice system and juvenile delinquents. At one point, though - with, one presumes, her tongue firmly in her cheek — she proposed that divorce rates could be lowered if people had to enter into a "marriage contract" before they could legally be wed in the state.
The contract had the following agreements: neither should snore; the non-primary cook (presumably the man) would cook one meal a week; toothpaste had to be pushed from the bottom of the tube; nobody could leave their tights in the shower; and the toilet seat had to be put down.
The One Where Aborted Fetuses Were Banned From Food
Long before "fake news" became a phrase, poor Ralph Shortey of Oklahoma was the victim of a scare campaign of the sort that your great-aunt forwards to you in the middle of the night and probably has a virus in it. Shortey, in 2012, proposed a bill that banned any aborted fetuses being used in food in the state, despite the fact that there was no such practice in place.
Shortey, it seems, got the idea that food producers were "extracting" stem cells from aborted fetuses and using them for research on their products, in ways that meant they'd end up in the finished food. Not only is this not how product research works, it's also not how abortion works or indeed, how food works. And it's definitely not how federal regulation on stem cell usage works. Needless to say, the bill was not signed into law because the entire idea was ridiculous.