Bronze-level articlePseudolaw

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It's not even
a good idea

Pseudolaw

Icon pseudolaw.svg
I have a theory,
which is mine

Pseudolaw encompasses any legal theory developed or action taken that relies heavily on frivolous arguments trumped up in legal language. Pseudolaw shares many homologous and analogous traits with pseudoscience such as the use of argument from authority, equivocation, and quote mining. Like pseudoscience most of the proponents of pseudolaw are laymen with little to no legal experience (outside their own trials and incarcerations). While an overwhelming majority of those in the legal profession reject the arguments, there are a few cranks with law degrees and licenses that push pseudolaw as well.

Contents

[edit] Signs of pseudolaw

Much like pseudoscience, one of the first hints that a legal theory is pseudolaw is when it bucks against established legal consensus and precedent. However, while necessary this is not a sufficient condition. Much of currently accepted law was once against precedent. The primary thing to look for is if the legal theory or argument has been tried before a court and whether it was rejected. If an argument has been rejected by the courts on a repeated basis, it is usually, but not invariably, the case that someone attempting to push that argument is practicing pseudolaw.

While the ultimate test of pseudolaw is how it is ultimately perceived and used in a court of law (just as with pseudoscience the ultimate test is how it performs with predictions against empirical reality) there are many red flags that can identify pseudolaw even without a court ruling. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Over reliance on technicalities such as spelling or grammar. For example, some people argue that the traditional use of all capital letters for names in court briefings is a different entity than the actual person in the case.[1] See, for instance, David Wynn Miller.
  • Belief or use in common lay-person misconceptions like a Contract can only be created by a written form and signature, or you can't be convicted of murder without a body etc.
  • Quoting Supreme Court cases out of context, usually one or two sentences, or sometimes even a phrase. Tax protesters are fond of quoting Supreme Court opinions that say that the Sixteenth Amendment "conferred no new power of taxation." Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co., 240 U.S. 103 (1916); see also Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 240 U.S. 1 (1916) to argue that the income tax is illegal. However, the ruling is not saying that the 16th amendment did not provide power to tax income, but rather that Congress already had that power. This is classic quote mining.
  • Reference to other arguments that have been rejected as frivolous by courts. Pseudolaw concepts flock together and cross-pollinate.
  • Arguments that refer to the United States of America Incorporated or to the Federal government somehow seeming to be a private enterprise or company. [2]
  • Jurisdictional challenges that focus on claiming the federal government has no right to try cases in states. A favorite is to claim that any court with gold fringe on the flag is a "maritime" court not a real court.[3]
  • Arguments that the court, police, public officials, etc. have no authority over an individual unless that individual has consented to that authority. This is often phrased along the lines of "once you accept an attorney, you're bound by contract to the court, but if you refuse an attorney they have no authority." As an adjunct to these arguments, some hold the belief that it's possible to unwittingly consent to authority, such as if you sign your name on a Federal form or receive a Federal "benefit" such as receiving mail at your home's mailbox.
  • Intense hatred of lawyers and the bar, reference to the bar as being run by the Illuminati or Masons, and encouraging people with little to no legal training to refuse appointed attorneys and proceed pro se.[4]
  • References to the Titles of Nobility Amendment (the so-called "missing 13th Amendment" to the United States Constitution). Similarly, some pseudolawyers even argue that persons who use the title of "Esquire" (generally practicing attorneys)[5] are not citizens and cannot hold public office.[6]
  • Arguments that the Fourteenth Amendment created a new class of "subject citizens" (lowercase c) of the Federal government, separate and distinct from the true Citizens (capital C) of the united States (lowercase u) that co-exist with them.
  • References to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) in cases which do not involve private commercial transactions (for example, citing the UCC in criminal, traffic, and tax cases)[7]
  • References to "admiralty law" or "maritime law" in cases which clearly do not involve any matters which occurred at sea or in navigable waters.
  • References to "military" or "martial law" in matters that do not involve the military or members thereof.
  • Made up jargon from Latin that pseudolawyers claim derive from common law and give people special rights that others do not such as juris spurious when used in filing claims. [8]
  • Misuse of legal terminology, often because pseudolawyers do not have a full understanding of the concepts they are attempting to discuss.
  • Extraordinary claims such as being able to get anyone out of jail, no matter what they were convicted of, in a matter of weeks. [9]

[edit] High profile pseudolawyers

Pseudolaw practitioners can fall into several categories, primarily laymen with no legal training or license who "advise" clients, and true lawyers that have embraced crankhood to push some particular pseudolaw theory. From time to time one of these pseudolawyers will gain press attention because their ideas are being used in increasing numbers, or in a high profile case, or because they themselves are being prosecuted.

One recent (as of 2007) example is that of Tommy Cryer, a Louisiana-based attorney who was a popular speaker in the tax protester movement. Cryer claimed that there is no law that makes individuals liable for income tax, and pushed his theory using all the classic pseudolaw methods discussed above. [10] He was prosecuted in 2007 for willful failure to file an income tax return, but was found not guilty by the jury.[11] Because of the rarity of such an event, Cryer received some media attention, and tax protesters everywhere trumpeted the case as a victory for their cause. In reality, Cryer got off by convincing the jury he did not willfully fail to file, because he didn't know he had to. He was still found liable for the tax and would never have been able to use such a defense again. Cryer used his "victory" to continue making money on the lecture tour, despite others such as Sherry Jackson who have attempted to use his defense and lost.[12]

After his acquittal, Cryer went on to file suit against the US government, alleging improprieties in the government's investigation of him. [13] This case was dismissed. [14] In 2009, Cryer went on to file a petition in the US Tax Court, alleging that he did not in fact owe any tax. After several delays the trial was finally re-scheduled for October 2012[15], but Cryer died on the fourth of June.[16] He was 62.

Another example was that of Tony Davis and his International Legal Services business. Davis pretended he was a lawyer, though he was really just a convicted felon with no legal training. For fees ranging from $10,050 to $25,000 he promised to get anyone out of jail no matter what crime they committed or when, based on a technicality he asserted made every conviction in the last 60 years null and void. True to form with most cranks and con men, while his theory was rejected outright by every level of the court system, he continued to claim that theories were correct until he was finally put out of business in 2010 thanks to a Texas court restraining order banning him from selling legal briefs or acting as a lawyer.[17] A similar pattern has occurred with Mitch Modeleski a/k/a Paul Andrew Mitchell and his "Supreme Law Firm", who has filed a number of frivolous lawsuits and threatened a number of people with baseless suits.[18]

[edit] Law, authority, and hucksters

Though not strictly pseudolaw, many people have attempted to use their position as a "lawyer" to somehow gain authority on issues or even run scams similar to televangelists. For example, Andrew Schlafly (mildly internet-famous for his blog, Conservapedia) has a law degree, but has not been involved in any serious legal practice and has not participated in any meaningful way in the legal system. But he uses his position as a "lawyer" to attempt to gain authority to argue his polemic points, such as the link between abortion and breast cancer.[19]

Other examples include individuals such as Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is essentially a giant anti-ACLU crank organization. [20] Sekulow files amicus curiae briefs on cases other people have brought up, then pretends on his daily radio show that he is an integral part of all of these cases. He then starts begging for money; he has essentially made a living pretending to be a lawyer and hating the ACLU.

Neither Sekulow nor Schlafly have participated in a meaningful way in the legal system. While they are lawyers in the loosest sense of the word, the only thing they do with these credentials is use them to fleece the gullible and push an ideologically-driven agenda. This is not technically pseudolaw, but it is an important element in the abuse of the legal system.

[edit] Pseudolaw and conspiracy theories

Pseudolaw often goes hand in hand with other conspiracy theories. Most pseudolaw practitioners believe there is a vast conspiracy to cover up a group of elitists that control all the judges, courts, juries and the government as a whole. This is why their ideas never work in court--not because they are wrong, but because there is a conspiracy to suppress them (just like the vast materialist conspiracy propping up the Darwinian orthodoxy). This dark group holds all the classic labels such as Masons, Illuminati, and Zionists. There is also a tendency to believe that violent revolution is coming and that people should stockpile supplies, weapons and ammunition. Many of the far-right militia and extremist groups that have dominated press coverage of domestic terrorism over the last couple of decades have relied heavily on pseudolaw concepts and conspiracies.

[edit] Debt elimination scams

Some debt elimination scams are based on pseudo-legal arguments. One such scam known as the redemption movement that has been circulating for years in different forms claims that the United States Treasury Department has a trust fund established for every U.S. citizen with a Social Security number, which funds can (somehow) be accessed by filing the appropriate paperwork at the county courthouse declaring oneself a sovereign of the "united states of America" and disclaiming federal citizenship in the "United States of America" (note the pseudo-legal obsession with making spurious distinctions based on capitalization). Then, goes the theory, one need only print a "Sight Draft", or "Bill of Exchange", transferring one's home loans and other debts to the U.S. Treasury Department. These bogus documents are rejected by lenders as a matter of course, and courts have repeatedly found in favor of lenders and against those attempting this method, declaring such documents worthless.

[edit] Social networking

There are at least two[21] internet memes circulating around Facebook that could be classed as pseudo-law. The text of the more recent one, which concerns copyright, reads:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updatees.

Minor variations exist, the more in-depth ones that cite non-existent or misrepresented laws. But in all cases, such things are not legally binding - no more so than a magic spell would be. When signing up to a website, users agree to terms and conditions, and these cannot be retroactively undone. Indeed, the copyright notice above states that Facebook cannot "disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate", which raises the question: how is Facebook meant to host and share your content with people? Also, the reference to the Rome Statute (which is an international treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and codifying the rules on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) is delightfully hilarious for obvious reasons.

[edit] The cost of pseudolaw

The greatest cost is to those that buy into the theories and wind up spending years in jail and often losing all of their life work in the processes. While some of these people may be just greedy and looking for a way out of paying their fair share, some may honestly be seeking something and get pulled in by the cult-like mentality of the movement. Family members of those in prison also face tremendous costs, such as when Tony Davis would go to people and claim to be able to get their family members out of jail for thousands of dollars. When it failed and people tried to get their money back, Davis sued them.[17]

There is also an inherent cost to the legal system in processing the frivolous claims, and to all aspects of government when pseudolaw is taken to the extreme, such as the case of Ed Brown. Ed Brown was a tax protester who bought into all the conspiracy and pseudolaw theories. After his conviction, he and his wife holed up in their house and refused to leave, threatening violent action against law enforcement. The eight month standoff was extremely costly both in terms of dollar figures and the time and energy of law enforcement.[22]

Finally, like all examples of irrationality, there is the intellectual cost of destruction of reason. For all of these reasons, pseudolaw is a dangerous trend that needs as much vigilance as any of the pseudoscience movements.

[edit] External links

  • Idiot Legal Arguments at ADL.org, a mindbendingly dense and often snarky list of refutations of US pseudolaw theories, written by Bernard Sussman for the Anti-Defamation League in 1999.
  • The Tax Protester FAQ, a somewhat more accessible presentation of US pseudolaw as used by tax protesters.
  • Comedy website Cracked.com's intensely snarky list of "7 Retarded Tax Evasion Schemes (People Are Actually Trying)".

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Discussion and court cases surrounding the all caps issue
  2. Pseudolaw rant about the USA, inc.
  3. Pseudolaw rant involving maritime courts and the gold fringe on flags
  4. Biblical pseudolaw rant against lawyers and the Bar Association
  5. The first thing we do, let's remove the citizenship of all the lawyers.
  6. Essay which makes exactly this argument
  7. Bizarre pseudolaw book referencing the Bible and misusing legal terminology
  8. Motion of Particulars from a victim of pseudolaw
  9. Ex-convict appeals to inmates' hopes for freedom
  10. Summary of Cryer's pseudolaw delusions
  11. Cryer found not guilty
  12. Example of one of Cryer's current paid gigs (he needs the money to pay back taxes!)
  13. Complaint, docket entry 1, Dec. 26, 2007, Cryer v. United States, case no. 5:07-cv-02206-DEW-MLH, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana (Shreveport).
  14. Cryer v. United States, 2008-1 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) paragr. 50,361 (W.D. La. 2008); Memorandum Ruling, p. 6, docket entry 8, May 9, 2008, case no. 5:07-cv-02206-DEW-MLH, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana (Shreveport), aff'd per curiam, no. 08-30667, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Feb. 4, 2009.
  15. Notice of Trial, May 24, 2012, Cryer v. Commissioner, United States Tax Court, docket no. 008118-09.
  16. Obituary, Tommy Keith Cryer, Centuries Memorial Funeral Home, Shreveport, Louisiana, at [1].
  17. 17.0 17.1 Austin ex-convict barred from practicing law
  18. Site critical of Paul Andrew Mitchell
  19. Schlafly and his breast cancer rant
  20. ACLJ on the ACLU
  21. Snopes.com - Facebook privacy notices
  22. Local editorial on the standoff
Articles on RationalWiki related to pseudo-studies
Pseudoarcheology - Pseudohistory - Pseudolaw - Pseudolinguistics - Pseudomathematics - Pseudoscience - Pseudopsychology - Pseudoscience list - Pseudoscience in advertising - Pseudoskepticism - Pseudovitamin
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