NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 23, 2004

There are now thousands of federal crimes -- a number that has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, says a new report commissioned by the Federalist Society.

In the report entitled "Measuring the Explosive Growth of Federal Crime Legislation Authors," John Baker Jr. and Dale Bennett find that:

  • Today, there are over 4,000 federal offenses which carry criminal penalties -- a 33 percent increase since 1980.
  • Since 1997, 35 percent of the new criminal provisions created by Congress address environmental issues.
  • More than 40 percent of all federal provisions enacted since the Civil War have been put into force since 1970; over 25 percent were passed between 1980 and1996.

The report considers only statutes as sources of federal crimes. The authors say that if regulations were included, the number of federal crimes would likely be 14,000 or more.

There is concern that many federal crimes and their enforcement overreach constitutional limits. The Supreme Court has warned Congress twice within the last decade about overstepping its powers when it declared certain federal statutes unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, Baker and Bennett say, those cases have not dissuaded Congress from continuing to pass criminal laws at the same pace.

Source: John S. Baker Jr. and Dale E. Bennett, "Measuring the Explosive Growth of Federal Crime Legislation," Federalist Society, April 2004.

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