Walter E. Williams

The House of Representatives voted 245 to 159 to pass the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1999. Because of a rule requiring two-thirds approval, the measure didn't pass. Its sponsor, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., plans to introduce it again when only a majority is needed for passage.

If enacted, it would "Amend the Federal criminal code to make it unlawful for any person engaged in a gambling business to knowingly use the Internet or any other interactive computer service to: (1) place, receive or otherwise make a bet or wager; or (2) send, receive, or invite information assisting in the placing of a bet or wager." Criminal penalties include fines and up to five years' imprisonment.

There is absolutely no constitutional authority for this disgusting abuse of federal power. But most Americans, who think Congress has a right to do anything for which they can get a majority vote, ignore the clearly written constitutional restraints on Congress.

The key restraint here is the Tenth Amendment, which holds that all powers not enumerated in the Constitution belong to the people and the states. Of course, congressmen might pretend they have such authority under the "commerce clause," their standard excuse to grab power.

Congress' constitutional contempt is nothing new, but this latest act is quite a step down the slippery slope toward greater control of our lives. Let's look at some of their justifications. Rep. Goodlatte says, "Internet gambling is a scourge on our society. It causes innumerable problems in our society." Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., says, "The Internet is addictive for many people anyway, and online gambling can be doubly addictive." Most other justifications follow the same line of reasoning; namely, there are Americans who don't know what's good for them, and it's the job of Congress to stop them from personal indiscretions.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act gives Congress the authority to go to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and order that they not provide linkages to online gambling establishments. If you think Congress will be satisfied with restrictions only on gambling establishments, you're going to be disappointed. After all, the Internet provides people with access to other establishments that can be said to "cause innumerable problems in our society." There are various hate groups with Internet sites that spew vile propaganda. There are pornographic sites. There are sites that present political ideas or religious fanaticism that are offensive to many people and can "cause innumerable problems in our society."


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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