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The cost of judicial vibrancy

The cost of judicial vibrancy

Parrish Miller
December 9, 2013
December 9, 2013

In the "Annual Report of the Idaho Supreme Court," Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick doubles down on a statement he made last year describing the Idaho judiciary as "vibrant." Although I initially found this description odd, I looked up the definition of the word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and found it to mean "having or showing great life, activity, and energy; very bright and strong."

Perhaps he is right, after all. Digging deeper into the report reveals such interesting statistics as the fact that felony drug cases have increased by 35 percent since 2008 and that mental commitment cases have increased by a staggering 82 percent during the same period. Perhaps the court really is showing great life, activity and energy … but at what expense?

At issue is not just the 6.2 percent general fund growth for adult and juvenile corrections last year or the 53 percent growth during the past 10 years¹, but also the cost to individuals in terms of over-criminalization and a loss of individual liberty.

Dec. 5 was the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, often dubbed Repeal Day, yet today this nation and many states including Idaho continue to use the failed tactics and logic of Prohibition to criminalize the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services for which there is significant market demand.

In Idaho, even liquor, while no longer prohibited outright, is strictly regulated and cannot be sold by the glass without government permission or by the bottle by any entity other than the government itself. Criminal sanctions are also possible for those who voluntarily consume alcohol, but who have not yet attained the age of 21.

Idaho has serious problems with over-criminalization that results in thousands of Idahoans who have not harmed anyone being convicted of victimless crimes and incarcerated or otherwise penalized by the state. Our natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are only respected when we are free to exercise our freedom as we see fit so long as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others.

Nearly two centuries ago, the great patriot and Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, addressed the issue of liberty and its relationship to law. He said, "Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."

Do the myriad laws in Idaho today violate the rights of the individual? Do they obstruct action according to our will for any reason other than to protect the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others? If so, Thomas Jefferson would classify those laws as the tyrant's will.

Idaho can do a much better job at protecting and upholding the rights of the individual. The first step is to clamp down on the rampant criminalization of actions that do not harm others, but that are merely personal choices that are out of alignment with the goals of would-be societal engineers.


  1. The general fund budget for adult and juvenile corrections has grown by 482 percent since 1993 compared with an overall fund increase of just 176 percent during the same period.
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