Justice Department Legal Opinion Killed Effort To Legalize Internet Gambling In North Dakota
Once upon a time there was an effort in North Dakota, lead by Fargo-area Rep. Jim Kasper, to legalize online poker in the state. Kasper’s efforts were overshadowed by the Bush-era Justice Department, which claimed that existing federal laws would have made the state law illegal.
Now, though, comes news that the Justice Department has reversed itself under President Obama and decided that existing federal laws only apply to online sports gambling and not other sorts of gaming, and they’ve clearly got it right. Existing laws were written to make it illegal to take bets across state lines through the use of phones. Specifically, people calling in bets to bookies. The existing laws were never intended to address internet gambling.
ND Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the Associated Press that the Justice Department’s original opposition to the state legislation had a role in its defeat, but now that there’s a new interpretation the door is open to new state legislation to legalize online gambling.
Setting aside for a moment the question of gambling, it seems to me that this sort of whipsaw in the interpretation of our laws isn’t healthy for our country. How, through mere interpretation of the law, something that was illegal under one President be legal under another? Is the President a monarch now?
This sort of thing happens all over our government. You readers might be more familiar with the EPA conveniently re-interpreting laws to grant itself more regulatory authority. But do any of you remember this sort of bureaucratic re-interpretation when you learned about American government in civics 101?
Most of us believe that the law is what Congress says it is, with the President enforcing the law and the courts settling disputes over the law. But now it seems as though the law has become whatever the president or certain bureaucrats in Washington say it is in a given moment.
That’s not only bad for a society that was founded on the rule of law, and government by the people, but the uncertainty these interpretations bring are bad for the economy. If you’re a company looking at starting a gambling website, how will you know whether or not your business model will be legal from one presidential administration to the next?
You won’t. There are no guarantees. Because, again, the law isn’t necessarily what the law says.
The “rule of law” is a concept which holds that the law is what it is, and that all people (including the most powerful in our society) must abide by it. This is a departure from how humanity was governed through most of its existence, which was rule by man. Some monarch or dictator deciding what the law was for everyone with no participation from the people at large and no process to stop the law from being changed on a whim.
What we see in this re-interpretation of laws, absent the legislative process in Congress, is closer to that latter sort of despotism than any notion of “rule of law.”Tags: North Dakota News, online gambling, rule of law