Stop Over-criminalizing and Over-federalizing Criminal Law

It’s that time again. Another day, another we-need-to-add-multiple-amendments-before-reauthorizing-a-bill moment. Currently, the Senate is moving to pass the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S.2658), which would grant the FAA funding through September 2017. During this process, however, senators like Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) have taken the opportunity to squeeze in additional measures by way of amendments as they rush the bill to the floor.

To add to the situation, recent events like the Brussels Airport terrorist attack on March 22, grant politicians a certain level of justification to input additional, overbearing regulations to an already burdensome bill in the eyes of a public presently alarmed by the ever-looming threat of ISIS. Sure, numerous attempts at safeguarding the American public seem undoubtedly necessary at first glance. However, what good does it do the American citizen to push forward amendments, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.), requiring the FAA to set a minimum seat size to prevent airlines from “chopping down seat size and legroom until consumers are packed in like sardines in a can on every flight”?

Our ability to comfortably sit on an airplane aside, let’s instead take particular focus on Sen. Cantwell’s attempt this week to pass Amendment No. 3490. Her aim was to protect against the physical assault to air carrier customer service representatives. Of course air carrier employees deserve every bit of respect afforded them in their capacity as representatives charged with the carrying out of daily airline affairs and assisting customers rushing to catch flights, but what implications did this amendment actually make?

For starters, the proposal confirmed the constant overreach practice employed by our government. Airline employees are agents of private entities and are not federal employees. Moreover, airports are not federal property. These instances differ from the authority the federal government has on misconduct committed aboard a plan in flight or directed toward air marshals or TSA agents. States and local agencies already provide avenues for citizens, including airline employees, to take legal action against assailants, so why would federal intervention be necessary at all?

Even more troubling, Sen. Cantwell’s proposed amendment aimed to make assault on air carrier customer service representatives a potential 10-year felony. Assault, by its legal definition, is threat of bodily harm combined with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm. In other words, so long as the victim has a reasonable level of apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact, the actual ability to carry out the feared contact is NOT necessary.

Imagine getting into a heated conversation with an airline employee who is possibly having a bad day and drops any form of customary nicety. What if you are equally having a bad day, rushing to catch your flight? You’ve already had to remove your shoes, belt, and watch, listen to a baby’s incessant crying, and fumble through your pockets to present the appropriate identification at different points in the process. Suddenly, you and the airline employee squabble over an issue; only, the airline employee is so perturbed with your smart comments that he or she decides that you have caused him or her a reasonable level of apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact. You’re whisked away by airport security faced with the threat of an automatic, maximum 10-year sentence.

Oh, and by the way, you’re definitely missing that flight.

Overcriminalization in any form is unacceptable. Limiting unnecessary government regulations and overreach seems a never-ending struggle despite successful moments of bipartisan agreement like efforts behind criminal justice reform. Keeping an ever-mindful eye over bills and amendments in Congress is especially important because politicians relentlessly believe that creating more rules and regulations is the solution to our country’s everyday issues. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.