A Statute by Any Other (Non-Acronomial) Name Might Smell Less Like S.P.A.M., or The Congress of the United States Grows Increasingly D.U.M.B.

Christopher L. Sagers, Cleveland State University


While the question why we Americans name our statutes is rarely asked and not obvious, it turns out to be extremely interesting and, at least in the case discussed in this essay, illuminating. Namely, it appears to have occurred to someone on Capitol Hill that there is something to be gained by devising statute names that spell out clever acronyms. These things normally aim to be amusing or cute in some sense, and also usually serve some rhetorical purpose. A first surprise about them is their recent and shocking profusion. During the first two hundred years of the Republic there appear to have been perhaps two such statutes. In the twenty years since, there have been at least fifty-three.

But on closer examination the practice turns out to be not actually so amusing after all, and thinking about it is not just some trite diversion. This trend in its detail turns out to have something fairly sobering to say about the way our Congress has operated for some years now. It also has something to say about who our elected representatives are as people, how they see their responsibilities, and just how low their opinions of we their constituents really must be. The ugliest thing about it is that, with we Americans, this sort of thing works; American democracy, like the popular names of several recent statutes, is a joke that isn't funny.