You're a Wizard Harry: Harry Potter, TSA, and Legal Elasticity.

Elasticity of law is an idea I first read about in continental philosophy. An internet search won’t return results that show what Gadamer meant when he talked about elasticity of law. There is a distance between a single case which establishes a new law or laws and the application of said new laws in the future. A law must, for lack of better terms, be designed, in a sense, as a predictive model which incorporate several elements of similar infraction. A new law must stretch into the future, must anticipate your’s and my bad acting, so as to cover the variable derivatives of our bad acting.

Enter corporate human resources policies. Ever wonder why an employment handbook for a position that faces the general public every day requires frontline employees to remove, say, eyebrow piercings? The firm had enough instances where people wore eyebrow piercings that someone in HR stopped and said, “Hey you guys, we should write a policy about this so we don’t have to address it every single time. And it happens often enough that when we do have to address it, we can refer to the employee handbook as a way to hammer out our point.” Whenever you encounter an HR policy that seems extraordinarily common sense, consider the fact that it happened so often that your HR team had to establish policy.

Legal elasticity and HR brings me to Harry Potter. I haven’t read Harry Potter yet—I’ve been waiting for kids so I can read it with them. As a book hound this has been no easy thing, especially when you cannot miss Harry in some form almost every day. But when I was searching the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) website to determine if I could carry on mountaineering trekking poles, I encountered something astonishing: the TSA has a specific section dedicated to Harry Potter wands. Wait, what?

Screen grab.

Screen grab.

How then do I tie this back to legal elasticity? Think about it. The fact that TSA has a section dedicated specifically to Harry Potter wands tells me enough people—children and adults—attempted to bring their wizard wands through security that administrators had to design a policy to address the issue. I imagine supervisors overwhelmed with questions from staff about how to handle crying children (and adults) whose wands were confiscated before passing successfully through security. Angry parents. Crying children. Traveling with kids is hard enough, but traveling with kids who’ve had their Harry Potter wizard wands confiscated sounds like a nightmare. As you can see above, TSA has deemed the wands as safe to carry on or check in your luggage.

So, then, the elasticity of law and its challenge for lawgivers to see over the time horizon and beyond historical distance to compensate for future infractors, while originating in cases about the dynamics of natural law versus law by statute, has evolved into government policy about the status of Harry Potter wizard wands. I find this an impressive evolution for the species.

Parker McConachieComment