Why are there so many stupid laws in the USA?

Olivia Locher did an interesting photography project where she shows wierd laws on the US. Why the hell can’t you have an ice cream on your back pocket? Why do they serve CHEESE on an apple pie? Is a mullet an unusual haircut? Here is the project: http://olivialocher.com/ifoughtthelaw.html

Think of how many non-sensical laws can be passed by any given governing body during a given year. Multiply that by the number of boroughs, towns, municipalities, counties, etc. in the US and the 300-some-odd years that some of them have been operating. There are bound to be sufficient “stupid” laws and regulations still on the books to keep teenagers entertained for years to come.




There have been a million books and articles of weird laws over the years. Almost never do any of them actually give the real life law that they are referencing. Unless and until they do, assume that the article is a load of crap.

There’s also a certain “yeah,but” element to so-called dumb laws even when they are true.

You have a lot of situations where it’s basically:

  • 1888 a small mining town, Colorado
    Councilman 1: “There’s a real problem with people leaving their horses tied up to public posts, even in winter, when they’re gonna freeze to death out there. We’ll pass a town law that says horses can’t be tied up in the street, they have to be in some sort of shelter.”

Councilman 2: “Good idea. But it’s not just horses. I mean tying up a mule or a donkey is just as much of a problem.”

Councilman 1: “Right. So the ordinance will read no tying up any animal of any kind in public on a city street. Agreed?”

120 years later:
It is illegal to tie up an alligator to a feeding post in Colorado.

Well, yes

I read a kid’s book of silly laws years ago (don’t remember the title, so I can’t give a cite, sorry) but one law stood out. According to the book, it’s illegal to wear a white sheet as a costume in one state–I remember it was in the South, but not which one. The illustration showed an adult preventing a child from dressing as a ghost for Halloween, but I remember thinking, “Hey, maybe this is an anti-Klan law”, in which case, I wouldn’t call it silly.

The sheet one actually kinda makes sense. But I still think mullets should be illegal.

This is better suited to IMHO than General Questions.

General Questions Moderator

The funny thing about these sorts of discussions is that they’re never sourced to the laws.

Although, as I recall, the ice cream cone one was Kentucky, not Alabama, and had to do with horse theft (i.e., you would use it to lure a horse home but be able to claim that the horse was just following you). But, for all I know, that’s made up too.

Because it’s delicious, that’s why.

Apparently there was a law in Ottawa that says it’s illegal to eat ice cream on Bank St. on Sundays. So my friend and I were in Ottawa on a Sunday and we went to the Laura Secord on Bank St., bought ice cream and totally ate it while walking along the street. We did not get arrested.

They have ice-cream cameras. You should get the ticket in the next couple of weeks.

In the case of actual “stupid” laws which exist, as opposed to goofy interpretations like “not tying alligators to posts” as referenced above, in many cases I would suspect that the relevant municipalities are too embarrassed to draw attention to themselves by repealing the law, thus generating instant local and perhaps national interest. Imagine the town that decided to repeal the rule against eating ice cream cones on Sunday, if such a law and town existed. They’d become a laughingstock. Or, less amusingly, if a town still had a racially-motivated law on the books that nobody bothered to repeal after the law was superceded by federal or state law. I’ve heard that more than one town, even in the northern states, still carries laws on the books preventing blacks or Hispanics or other races from living within town limits. Obviously these laws are null and void due to federal civil rights laws, but imagine the embarrassment of a town trying to repeal such blatantly racist laws in 2013.

Stupid politicians, mostly. Actually, the real reason is smart politicians. Politicians try to write laws that will serve the interests of countless interest groups, while also being politically feasible. And often it’s advantageous for them to have laws that are extremely long and confusing precisely so that the voters can’t really understand what the laws are saying. The result is dumb laws. For example, there was once a law which said that it’s illegal to sell an insurance plan that covers 93% or more of the patient’s expected costs. In the name of protecting the patient, insurance companies were forced to reduce the amount of coverage they gave to their customers.

It was called the PPACA, better known as Obamacare. You may have heard of it.

I love this one…

It is illegal to have sex in a moving ambulance and if you are caught the guy is let go and the woman is punished and her name appears in the newspaper.

Only in Utah

Another issue (I believe) is the cost of reprinting the code books.

In the case of the older laws (if they do actually exist), there was probably a logical reason for the laws when they were created – and they may well have been created to address particular situations which existed at the time, but are now long-forgotten.

Even if the law and its reasoning is now utterly outdated and useless, it’d still take some amount of initiative and effort on the part of the lawmaking body to remove the law from the books. As the law is likely not being enforced any longer, and it’s not causing a hardship on anyone, there’s no incentive on the part of the lawmaking body to do anything about it.

Let’s try to avoid having this topic hijacked with a political or healthcare debate.

Dumb laws were invented to give 1990s websites a reason to make lists, even if most were either misinterpreted or not a law for decades. Luckily we are more enlightened today… Also, does “in Texas” mean the whole state or some random small town?

The cheese thing - isn’t that a New England thing!? Vermont ISTR, maybe NH or parts Massachusetts? Just because “cheese” is pretty much the only thing anyone knows about Wisconsin, doesn’t mean all stories about it point there.

I shall guess that the pool one means an empty pool. Not that California isn’t short of dumb laws. But overall, it’s hardly a hallmark of “the USA,” other countries do, too. But also, keep in mind that the US currently has an amendment banning the sale of alcohol!

SDSTAFFer Gfactor discusses this, using the alligator law as a specific example:

Are those weird laws you hear about for real? September 2, 2008.

Like johnspartan says above (only it’s about obstructing fire hydrants, rather than hitching posts): What the alligator law actually says is along the lines: Thou shalt not obstruct a fire hydrant, nor tie any animal thereto.

So, yeah, you can’t tie your pet alligator to a fire hydrant. If you happen to have a pet dolphin or polar bear, you couldn’t tie that to a fire hydrant either.