Throughout my time in Congress, I have been concerned with the encroachment of government into the everyday lives of Americans. And as a long-serving member of the Judiciary Committee and current chairman of the Crime Subcommittee, I’ve seen first-hand how muddled the criminal code is.  It’s time to scrub it clean and reduce federal spending by eliminating unnecessary criminal laws. Criminalization is the bluntest tool Congress wields.  And over-criminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of our nation’s problems. 

It has been over 50 years since the criminal code was last revised.  Today, there are roughly 4,500 federal crimes on the books because Congress has passed criminal laws with increasing regularity that include duplication between federal and state law and lack an adequate mens rea – the intent to commit a crime.  And many regulations and rules exist that, if not abided by, result in criminal penalties, including incarceration.

Therefore, I am proud to announce that this week the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution establishing the Over-Criminalization Task Force, which I will co-chair with Congressman Bobby Scott. The bipartisan task force will focus on reforms to streamline our criminal code – reviewing federal laws in Title 18, and addressing the codification of crimes outside it that have not gone through the Judiciary Committee, to modernize our criminal code. We will examine the extent of the problem, eliminate some of the most egregious examples from the code and establish guiding principles for future Congresses to foster better uniformity and consistency in criminalization. 

A concerted effort to reform the federal criminal code has resulted in a bill that exceeds 1,200 pages in length – the Criminal Code Modernization and Simplification Act, which I reintroduced this week.  If nothing else, the sheer volume of this bill brings the breadth of the criminal code and the need to reform it to light. The bill cuts over one-third of the existing criminal code and consolidates criminal offenses from other titles so that title 18 includes all major criminal provisions. We should ensure that the federal government’s role continues to be limited so state and local offenses are not subsumed within an ever-expanding criminal code.  

On Thursday, I discussed over-criminalization with Pat Robertson.