Why do absurdly outdated laws stay on the books?

I’m not talking about urban legends like camel hunting in Arizona, or even controversial issues like race, abortion, and the like. I’m talking about laws that were obviously written many, many years ago that could only entrap someone. Here’s an example:

And the penalty?

So, if my dog “worries” a goat, and I don’t kill the dog or pay an officer 50 cents to kill the dog, I can get 30 days in jail?

This is just an example, though. Why doesn’t a state legislature realize woefully outdated laws and repeal them as a matter of course? I’m sure we could cite other states, but I want to keep this GQ so we don’t get into serious issues, just silly ones…

I am not sure why you think that law is obsolete. Dogs that are allowed to get out of control can still cause damage to valuable livestock. It seems reasonable that there should be a fine for allowing it to happen, and it is standard practice to jail people who refuse to pay fines.

The general answer to your title question, however, is that it takes time and work for a legislature to repeal a law, and they usually have lots of other more urgent work to do. If a law is no longer being enforced, and is not causing any problems, there is little reason to bother to repeal it.

“Worry” in this context does not refer to emotional upset. An old definition of “worry” is: **“2. ** To pull or tear at something with or as if with the teeth.” You can still find this definition in use in farming and veterinary circles.

So, yes, if your dog is worrying my goat, it IS a serious matter and I DO expect you to do something about it.

Back when I kept sheep, I had an extremely expensive heirloom ram that was a show winner. Until a couple ‘but my pet foofy would never bother your animal’ dogs a few neighbors let roam around jumped the fence and did enough damage to require 250 external and uncounted internal stitches and ruining Rambeau as a show ram. We barely escaped having to put him down. We did have to put down a couple ewes. Dogs will pack up and randomly kill for fun. After that I simply stopped bothering trying to get the neighbors to control their dogs and would shoot them when they showed up on any part of my property. A call to animal control to have the body removed and the owner given a citation finally managed to get the idiots in the area to start controlling their damned dogs.

Hmm…I’m from a farming background in an agricultural nation and understood that law the moment I started reading it. Here in NZ dogs are routinely destroyed if found worrying livestock. And yes, “worrying” is the commonly used term.

Aside from the cited case being a perfectly cromulent law, politicians rarely get elected on the basis of repealing existing laws. Even in the current bullshit-fest national election we’re having the idea of repealing ‘Obamacare’ is falling flat. I’ve long felt that putting expiration dates on all laws would be a good idea, and it would end the rare case of nonsense laws left on the books.

In a general sense, “repealing” a law is just a particular case of passing a law. It’s kind of hard to pass laws in the American political system (largely by design). In the federal government and in every state but Nebraska, to pass a law (including a law repealing some older law) you’ve got to get two separately-elected houses of the legislature (which may be controlled by competing parties, and even if controlled by the same party, may have leaders–the speaker of the lower house and, say, the lieutenant governor who heads the upper house–who are political or personal rivals), then get it signed by the executive (the governor or the President of the United States). (Nebraska alone among the states has a unicameral legislature.)

Even beyond those basics, legislative procedure is arcane and maze-like–a bill may well have to go through multiple committees in each legislative house, with plenty of opportunities for the bill to die, be subjected to “poison pill” amendments, or just wind up with two competing forms and the two houses of the legislature in question can’t agree on how to merge them together.

Also, at the state level, legislative sessions can be very short, leading to a lot of time pressure to get things through the process, including really basic legislation like a state budget and appropriations bills. Repealing some musty old law that may be pointless but (arguably) isn’t really hurting anyone will likely be seen as a low priority action. And if there’s any constituency that thinks that laws against using witchcraft to make your neighbor’s cows give sour milk are just and righteous and commanded by God Almighty, that just makes it all the easier for everyone to just punt the issue down the road to some future session (where maybe it will somehow magically not be an election year*)–hey, no one’s actually even been charged with using witchcraft to tamper with livestock in this state since, what, 1797? And if we repeal it, we get the Citizens Against Satanic Pestering of Livestock down on us.

*It’s always an election year. Or at least the year before an election year.

Sometimes, we don’t repeal a law because we have an avoision to it:

To be even briefer, when there’s a widely-known work-around for a given law, there’s less incentive to go through the arduous process of repealing that law. This is also the landscape where you’ll find legal fictions going through their ghostly existence, not quite ‘real’ but not entirely false, either.

Most (if not all?) states by now have had one or more total revisions to their state laws. This means some group will go through the entire state statute books and clean up language, update dollar amounts for inflation, and expunge disused laws. Then the whole thing gets put up before the legislature for a (usually uncontroversial) vote.

Most of those “zany laws” things you see are either local laws, people looking at a pre-revision state statute book, or as seems to be the case here, perfectly reasonable laws that just sound zany out of context.

Many jurisdictions, particularly in the Commonwealth, have law reform commissions which propose repeal of (or changes to) outdated laws to the legislature.

Or they’re simply lies. Don’t forget that people lie to make those emails sound ‘better’, too.

Everyone has made good points. I was using the dog law as an example. I’m sure I can find others. My point was that of course we need a law restricting dogs killing livestock, but in this day and time we don’t give the owner the option of killing it himself or paying the sheriff 50 cents to do it. We have other, more modern methods. (Like maybe making the owner pay a fine, and keeping the dog enclosed instead of death on the first offense?)

You would think that every state would have a commission like ctnguy discussed. It’s done for some things. For example, until 2005, West Virginia had a law that mandated X number of superintendents of schools per white pupil, and Y number of superintendents for “negro pupils.” In the very first elected I ever voted in, in 1994, we repealed the constitutional mandate for segregated schools (even though it hadn’t been enforced in 39 years).

Likewise, the superintendent law was never enforced and lingered on the books, but was modified to say X number of superintendents per student. No real need to change it, but it was done because of the segregationist history of it. So, there is precedent for cleaning up some old laws, just not all of them.

Here’s another good one:

The former State Senator in my area used to do that. He put up a “challenge” for people to find ridiculous and outdated laws and send them to him. Every year he sponsored a bill to repeal them and it always passed unanimously. I imagine that he had a staffer spend a lot of time to make sure that there weren’t any unintended consequences or that there wasn’t some group that would be offended by something obscure first.

You may find if charged under this, a lawyer will argue the law is Desuetude in nature, and has impliedly repealed itself, the same maybe as any outdated/outmoded law, like no walking a chicken down the street on tuesdays or such.

Loving v. Virginia was handed down in 1967, but not until about 2004, if I remember right from past study, did Alabama remove from it’s books it’s interracial marriage law, even though it had NO force of law since Loving.

I believe we, Ohio, still have Flag burning law on the books, even though it is not enforcecable.

Total hijack but I find it interesting that worrying people is not included. Indeed, that the law is specific as to the creatures being worried.

I agree. In fact, WV is one of, if not the only state that recognizes desuetude as a doctrine. But, my question was simply why the legislature doesn’t repeal ridiculous laws. We also have laws on the books against abortion and flag burning, but I understand the political reasons why a legislator wouldn’t want to repeal those laws when they are unenforceable anyways.

Also in 2010, the legislature did a wholesale repeal of laws against adultery, fornication, non marital cohabitation, and Sunday blue laws (except for alcohol sales and hunting). Not much controversy, but if it had actually been debated, a lot of old religious people would have bitched about it.

The answer is that it’s not politically expedient to bother with it.

What is wrong with that law?

So far the laws you seem to think are ‘absurdly outdated’ aren’t. :dubious: