Citations (2)


Footnotes (328)



Making the Case for Megan's Law: A Study in Legislative Rhetoric

Daniel M. Filler

Drexel University College of Law

Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2001

Floor speeches by legislators constitute an important body of legal rhetoric. This article studies the Megan's Law legislative floor debates in both the United States Congress and the New York state legislature. The article begins by setting out three practical purposes of legislative debate. First, it can influence voting decisions. Second, it educates and influences both the media and the voting public. Finally it provides a rich source of interpretive material for the judiciary.

The article then sets out a naturalistic description of these speeches, comparing the two jurisdictions. Legislators in both Washington, DC and Albany argued for the new laws primarily by painting a grim picture of the status quo. They offered horrific accounts of individual child victimization, questionable statistical claims about the extent of the molestation and abduction crisis, and dehumanizing descriptions of child sexual offenders. Particularly within the U.S. Congress, legislators spent little time touting bills' virtues or rebutting the many possible criticisms of these controversial provisions. New York legislators, perhaps because of their greater political diversity, offered more nuanced critiques of the bills.

The article then assesses legislators' rhetorical tropes and claims. Storytelling, for instance, presented both problems and benefits as a primary rhetorical tool for promoting the new social policy. And despite the apparent value of statistical proof, such empirical data was easily manipulated by savvy legislators. Many issues were underdeveloped during the Megan's Law debates. For example, while virtually all legislators spoke exclusively of white offenders and victims, legislators' rhetoric entirely excluded a discussion of the laws' likely disparate impact on African-Americans. Similarly, few legislators acknowledged that benefits of the law - if any were to be had - would flow almost entirely to suburban, and other low density, communities.

Finally, the article considers how the Megan's Law debates educated the public, affected legislative voting, or shaped judicial interpretation of the bills. Because it concludes that the Megan's Law legislative debates did not optimally serve these three practical aims, the article evaluates new approaches to enriching the content of legislative debate. It argues that legislatures could appoint a public legislative advocate - the equivalent of a public defender, within the legislative context - or adopt new codes of debate. In any case, legislators should look for ways to improve and enhance the rhetoric of legislative debate.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: Legislation, Rhetoric, Criminal Law, Megan's Law, Punishment, Storytelling, Racism, Sexual Offenders, Child Sexual Assault, Sexual Predators

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: April 27, 2001  

Suggested Citation

Filler, Daniel M., Making the Case for Megan's Law: A Study in Legislative Rhetoric. Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 76, No. 2, 2001. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=266119 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.266119

Contact Information

Daniel M. Filler (Contact Author)
Drexel University College of Law ( email )
3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 6,097
Downloads: 472
Download Rank: 39,008
Citations:  2
Footnotes:  328

© 2015 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo5 in 0.375 seconds