What it means to THINK THE VOTE

// The importance of civic discourse

Join The Debate Top Comments

Q: Should State Governments Enlist Citizens to Enforce Laws?


“Of course citizens should be allowed to enforce laws! They do so all the time, especially in civil cases. That being said, if states are to go out of their way to enlist the help of citizens in their law enforcement, they must do so reservedly and with specific instructions. Firstly, citizens should only enforce a law if someone violates their rights or direct interests. For instance, if Jimmy Fallon commits libel against Oprah Winfrey, I shouldn’t be able to sue on Oprah’s behalf. Critically, however, some concerns are shared by society as a whole. There are some crimes (arson, vandalism of public property, etc.) that society has a vested interest in preventing. Even stopping littering is a public interest, and if a member of the public sees someone littering, they should be able to do something about it. To be clear, citizens enforcing laws is not necessarily the same as vigilante justice. Far from it. Barring extreme circumstances, citizens should only be encouraged to enforce laws by taking the offender to court. Furthermore, the standard of proof ought to be the same as in any other trial: if a member of the public can’t provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt (or, in civil cases, the preponderance of the evidence), then the accused should walk free. Further, states should refrain from providing their citizens with too much of an incentive — one that will cause them to quit their day jobs and scour the streets for criminals. Texas’ abortion law offers citizens $10,000 if they can prove someone has had an abortion — that seems a bit much! The idea here is that citizens should enforce the law because their interests as members of society have been infringed, not because they can make a quick buck. Law enforcement such as local police should obviously be the primary line of defense against criminal activities. And no one who doesn’t want to enforce a law should be made to do so. But if society’s interests are violated, then members of society should be able to do something about it.”

Patrick from Massachusetts


“Texas state government recently passed an anti-abortion law that allows citizens to enforce laws and sue any person that is involved in facilitating an abortion. Senate Bill 8 (SB8) allows the citizens of Texas to sue any person that is who helps provide or assists in an abortion, and I believe that this is wrong. State government should not enlist citizens to enforce laws, because it could result in complete chaos and is not practical, putting law enforcement into the hands of all citizens. It will also be an invasion of an individual’s privacy. State government allowing individual citizens to enforce laws by themselves is an extreme and risky idea because it would create complete and utter chaos if citizens are enforcing laws. The investigation into who, what, when and where an abortion happens may never hold up in court as trained police and law enforcement will not be investigating. All this does is give more power and money to attorneys if any cases do hold up in court and could jam the court system with possible false claims. State officers have to go to take many law education courses and training sessions, and go through many background checks to become a police officer and learn procedures to investigate (DPS). Citizens of Texas should not have the same powers as state officers to enforce law, if they have no education on the job. In Atlanta, Ahmuad Arbary was shot by a couple of men who believed that he was stealing something (Prabhu). This proves that people with no law enforcement background should not take actions into their own hands. They may not understand the full story. When a state allows this against private businesses and individuals, private citizens can also make these an organized effort just for personal gain. Furthermore, letting citizens enforce laws could lead to invasion of privacy and health advice. In Texas, this law it allows anyone who drive a woman to a clinic to get an abortion and anyone who sues a person would be entitled to $10,000 in court costs. (Weber). Doctors may not give women their full opinion on what they think is best if they are worried that they may be sued. This could entice people in Texas to go through people’s medical history to see if they had an abortion and who was involved in the abortion. This is a violation of the fourth amendment in the Constitution of the United States. This amendment identifies that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures (Maddison).” This law and laws giving citizens this kind of power to enforce laws can violate privacy and the 4th amendment. Bills created like the Texas Senate Bill 8 seem to be created to get around current laws or create shortcuts. Allowing states to put power into the hands of citizens to sue individuals that do not hurt them directly, is wrong. In the United States there are privacy laws to protect us and everything that comes with allowing this is a slippery slope to keeping privacy and allowing court cases that are not needed. This allows citizens to get involved where they should not have a right. It is important that everyone mind their own business and let the trained law enforcement handle and follow the constitution, leaving laws to the courts. Maddison , J. (1787, September 17). The constitution of the United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript Prabhu, M. T. (2021, March 8). Georgia House unanimously passes overhaul of State’s Citizen’s arrest law. ajc. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-house-unanimously-passes-overhaul-of-states-citizens-arrest-law/PO3WPQTTEFCYVJ73ZQSZHTFTEE/. “Texas SB8: 2021-2022: 87TH LEGISLATURE.” LegiScan, Texas State Government , 6 May 2021, legiscan.com/TX/text/SB8/id/2395961. Texas State Department of Public Safety. (n.d.). Age/basic requirements for Trooper. Age/Basic Requirements for Trooper | Department of Public Safety. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/training-operations-tod/agebasic-requirements-trooper Weber, P. J. (2021, September 2). Supreme Court votes 5-4 to leave Texas abortion law in place. Fox News. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.foxnews.com/us/supreme-court-votes-5-4-to-leave-texas-abortion-law-in-place.”

Ives from North Carolina

Think the Vote helps you to understand controversial topics and current events. Thinking through your vote is more than showing up on Election Day and picking the person that you like the best—it’s showing an interest in the world and the issues that surround you every day.

Learn About the Issues 

Join The Debate

“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

– President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961