We spend a lot of time pointing out where the justice system is failing, but it’s equally important to acknowledge what is going right. Even though sentencing and trials can move at the pace of bureaucracy (read: slow) there have been many times when the law itself was changed for the greater good.
For example, the voting age in America used to be 21. That changed in 1971. The thought was, if you are old enough to go to war for your country, you are old enough to have a say in how the country is run. Unlike many changes in the law, this one was widely supported. It took just four months to ratify.
However, while 70 percent of Americans agree that high voter turnout is important, voter apathy means just 56 percent of eligible voters go to the polls, placing the country 26th out of 32 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. It was good to lower the voting age; now we just need more people of all ages taking advantage of the privilege to vote.
It is common knowledge that being the President of a country is stressful. That stress clearly shows on Presidents’ faces over time. So, imagine the memes we would see if the 22ndAmendment hadn’t been enacted!
In 1951, the 22nd Amendment limited U.S. Presidents to two terms in power. The thought, and rightly so, was to keep the President from becoming too powerful – or too power-hungry. This change is good for the people, but also good for the health of the President.
Some laws were changed to benefit women. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until 1964 that women were formally recognized as a protected group under the Civil Rights Act. During the ’60s women were (finally) allowed to serve on juries, but it took over a decade longer for gender-based jury selection discrimination to be made unlawful.
The debate about abortion rages on, as it has for far too many years; but back in 1916, a nurse was arrested for distributing birth control. Women have only been legally allowed to purchase contraceptives since 1965.
Gun violence is a terrible scourge in this country and after each mass shooting, those for and against gun laws have their say – largely on social media. But we are seeing shifting attitudes lately; after a particularly deadly 2018, 10 states have banned bump stocks.
Bump stocks are devices that attach to semi-automatic rifles and make them fire faster. One was used in the Las Vegas shooting where the gunman fired more than 1,000 rounds, killing 58 and injuring over 800.
Illinois won the hearts and minds of animal lovers everywhere when it passed a law concerning pet custody and welfare when animal caretakers divorce. Illinois was not first to the table with this law. A year earlier, Alaska set the precedent. Increasingly, animals are gaining more rights and protections, which is good since pet ownership in America is up 56 percent since 1988.
The most recent judicial change is the First Step Act, signed into law on December 21, 2018. The Act received overwhelming bipartisan support and is poised to radically change the criminal justice system by reuniting families, shortening certain sentences, providing for better tracking and analysis of inmate data, and so much more. Sentencing.net has a comprehensive analysis of the Act on its website.
Let’s circle back to the voting age that changed in 1971. The first law stating the voting age was established in 1787. From 1787 to 1920, only white men aged 21 or older could vote. Women got the vote in 1920, but it took until 1971 to lower the voting age.
As you can see, laws change, even though sometimes those changes take years, decades, or even centuries. The backbone of democracy is fairness for all under the law, and while that has not been the case for everyone, America has proved time and time again that it can (slowly) change its tune. From recognizing women as persons to the sweeping changes happening with the First Step Act, America marches slowly but steadily towards being a better, more lawful, place.
Christopher Zoukis, author of Federal Prison Handbook, Prison Education Guide, and College for Convicts, is the Marketing Director of Brandon Sample PLC. He can be found online at https://sentencing.net, https://compassionaterelease.com, and https://clemency.com.