Whether it’s by writing the law yourself or by falling victim to tragic circumstances that result in a law being created to save others from your fate, it takes a lot for a person to get their name on a piece of legislation. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some laws that are named after people and how they got their titles.
Alger Hiss hit some rough sledding during the late 1940s and 1950s. The civil servant and lawyer had served in positions within the United Nations and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but journalist Whittaker Chambers, a former friend, began publicly accusing Hiss of being a Communist. At first Chambers only accused Hiss of being ideologically Communist, but the accusations later included charges that Hiss was involved in Soviet espionage. Hiss eventually served time in prison over the accusations even though there was serious doubt over whether or not he was even a spy.
In 1954, Congress added insult to injury when it passed the so-called Hiss Act, which barred Hiss from receiving his government pension. In 1972, though, Hiss won a small victory when a federal court ruled the Hiss Act was unconstitutional and forced the government to pay Hiss his pension—$61 a month—retroactive to 1966.
This 1910 law was originally known as the White Slave Traffic Act and was designed to curb forced prostitution by making it a crime to transport a woman across state lines for “immoral purposes.” The act was named after its author, Republican Congressman James R. Mann. The law is relatively obscure, but it remains on the books. Interestingly, a number of celebrities have run afoul of the vaguely worded act, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Berry (who served 20 months in prison for violating it), and boxing champ Jack Johnson.
This 1998 law extended the terms of various copyrights by 20 years. The law, which was championed by Disney when it was concerned about its early Mickey Mouse cartoons entering the public domain, is named after the late Representative Sonny Bono. It was no empty gesture, either; copyright protection was understandably one of the former entertainer’s chief legislative goals throughout his congressional career.
In 1997, 18-year-old Charlotte resident Kristen Modafferi disappeared, but since she was an adult, her family couldn’t use any of the nation’s kidnapping resources to try to track her down. When it was signed into law in 2000, Kristen’s Act created a National Center for Missing Adults.
It takes pretty tragic circumstances for a cat to get a law named after him. In 1997, a young Schenectady, NY, hoodlum named Chester Williamson doused a young cat named Buster with kerosene and before igniting him. The sad story prompted outrage among New York’s legislators, who passed Buster’s Law in honor of the murdered pet. The new law made animal cruelty a felony within New York.
In October, California’s legislature passed the Donda West Bill, which requires patients to undergo a health check and receive written clearance before undergoing any sort of plastic surgery. It’s named after the late mother of rapper Kanye West; Donda West died after undergoing a cosmetic procedure in 2007.
These laws forbid foreigners from owning more than 25 percent of any U.S. broadcaster. They’re named after the infamous broadcasters of anti-American Japanese propaganda during World War II.
This 1990 bill brought about sweeping changes to the quality and availability of care for patients with HIV and AIDS. The act, which was named after famous AIDS victim Ryan White, helped establish a “payer of last resort” for patients if they and their families were uninsured or had exhausted all of their resources. President Obama reauthorized the act for an additional four years in October.
This 1932 law was passed in the wake of the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping. It makes transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime that is punishable by life imprisonment. Furthermore, since the law made it a federal crime to transport victims from state to state, it enabled the FBI and other federal agencies to bring their resources and manpower to kidnapping cases.
This high-profile piece of gun control legislation was named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot and paralyzed by John Hinckley, Jr. during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. The 1994 law mandated waiting periods for handgun purchases and ordered federal background checks on anyone who attempted to buy a gun.
Anthony Comstock probably wasn’t a hit at parties. The 19th century moral reformer was the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and was rumored to have bragged to friends about how many “libertines” he had driven to suicide by cracking down on their sins. In 1873, he wrote a law that made it a federal crime to send “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials through the mail and convinced Congress to approve the measure.
The ban was pretty sweeping even by 19th-century reform standards. The law not only forbade any sort of mailed information about contraception, it also made contraceptives themselves illegal, an aspect of the law that remained on the books until a 1936 Supreme Court ruling. Moreover, the law nixed any sort of mail discussion of abortion, even for educational purposes. It took until the 1990s for some of the last vestiges of the Comstock Act to come off of state and federal books.
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