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Dead Letters Among the Laws

In 1920, it became illegal to drink alcohol. But during ancient Greek times, at certain celebrations it was illegal to be sober. How far we’d come.

From a 1920 New York Times article:

Laws which have been nominally enforced for decades have became dead letters, some of them without going through the form of repeal. Is it any wonder that the cynics among us are speculating whether prohibition will fall into this class?

Today, with the Volstead Act [the main law enforcing Prohibition] trying to be effective, it is refreshing to recall that at certain Bacchanalian festivals in pagan Greece it was a punishable offense not to be drunk, because a state of sobriety showed gross lack of reverence for the god of the grape.

Prohibition did “fall into this class” of largely unenforced laws, but it didn’t remain a dead letter permanently, getting repealed in 1933.

When a law is a dead letter, it can be funny. The real problem is when these troublesome vestigal laws are enforced.

In my home state of Virginia, a state law dating back decades still required couples to each fill out their race when applying for a marriage license — with the listed race options including such bygone terms as Aryan, quadroon, octoroon, and moor. In 2019, after three engaged Virginia couples filed a lawsuit against the state, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

 

Dead Letters Among the Laws (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 24, 1920

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Written by Jesse

October 23rd, 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Life,Politics

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