I agree with Jefferson on Waiting Period for Laws

January 28th, 2013

In the past, I have proposed on numerous occasions that legislatures should impose waiting periods between the proposal of a law, and its enactment, to mitigate against black swan problems, and ensure that cooler heads prevail.

Tim Sandefur, in commenting on Glenn Reynold’s Op-Ed that makes the case for such waiting periods, offers this fascinating bit of history.

 Thomas Jefferson actually suggested a similar idea in the first note he sent Madison after seeing the draft Constitution: “The instability of our laws is really an immense evil,” he wrote. “I think it would be well to provide in our constitutions that there shall always be a twelve-month between the ingrossing a bill & passing it: that it should then be offered to it’s passage  without changing a word: and that if circumstances should be thought to require a speedier passage, it should take two thirds of both houses instead of a bare majority.”

This is strikingly similar to something I proposed two years ago. A waiting period, followed by a super-majority requirement to retain in force an expedited law.

Let’s impose Legislative Waiting Periods. Before legislatures can pass laws, a legislative cooling off period should be in order. If people need cooling off periods before buying a gun and doing something stupid with it, legislatures should need a cooling off period before hastily ramming through a law. Any bill introduced in either house cannot be voted on for X months. If it’s that important, it can wait. If there is some type of exigency, emergency legislation can be passed right away, but it is only effective for Y days, and must be renewed by a supermajority every Z days (kind of like the War Powers Act). Frankly laws of this magnitude often take months, and even years to be implemented. There are countless rulemakings that need to occur. In some cases, waivers are given to delay any inconveniences for years. Waiting a few months before passing the bill won’t change anything. I’m sure with more deliberation time, the law can only be improved. Congress would be well served to move with all deliberate speed. (Yes we recognize the constitutional infirmities of this approach, but we’re just theorizing here.)

This is a very Burkean approach to legislating. I have discussed the interplay between Burkeanism, Black Swans, and libertarianism here, here, and here.

I hope to write this black swan article this summer, along with Robot, Esq. and some other stuff.

Update: More from SHG:

While Reynolds’ proposition may not serve in every instance, such as when we are about to go over a fiscal cliff and need an immediate stop-gap to prevent a discrete outcome no one wants, it certainly has its merit when it comes to social and criminal legislation in the heat of passion.

But as he notes, it’s never going to happen, as the last thing legislators want is a limitation on their ability to pander when an opportunity presents itself.  Thoughtfulness and deliberation are hardly strong selling points with an election coming up, as it does every two years.

When will people make it a priority to hold their representative to actually reading a law before they vote on it?  Don’t be silly. Voters would never expect their representative to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.  And so we have a lot of laws named after dead children, enacted in the heat of passion because we have to do something, that still haven’t made our world perfect. What’s one more?