The Keene Act is a United States national law passed in 1977 that outlawed "costumed adventuring". The signing of the bill immediately made illegal any form of vigilantism by costumed adventurers, except for the few who worked solely in the remit of the United States government. The bill was originally written by Senator J. David Keene of New York and then was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
Vigilantism had been made officially legal shortly after the creation of Doctor Manhattan, allowing him to wipe out organized crime en masse and demonstrate his powers to the world, intimidating America's enemies and reassuring allies. While the activities of the Minutemen had been tolerated, they were never officially sanctioned by the government. With this new legalization, Captain Metropolis attempted to form a new team of heroes, the Crimebusters, only to have his former teammate, The Comedian, destroy his efforts at the group's first meeting. However individually the various members of the proposed team remained active, each with varying levels of success.
The public's trust in costumed adventurers began to falter following the Vietnam War. People began to harbor distaste for vigilantism and became suspicious of the roster of costumed heroes, in part due to the actions of one particular costumed hero: Rorschach. Already known for his brutality in dispatching criminals, he was now openly murdering them without due process of law, only serving to further the growing divides between the heroes and the communities they protected. The final straw came when a police strike broke out on the east coast, causing widespread riots. While the heroes did what they could to contain them, including one infamously violent incident involving the Comedian and Nite Owl, the masked adventurers were still blamed for the looting and the deaths that resulted from the riots. In response Congress entered an emergency session and passed the Keene Act, which had been written up by Senator J. David Keene of New York. It was later stated to have been on the table for some time, only coming into play following the crisis.
The act bans masks, capes, experimental gadgets and weapons, and unlicensed vehicles, and it encourages citizens to notify the police if they encounter any vigilantes. A propaganda video supporting the act ends with the line: "Being vigilant is not a crime. Being a vigilante is. Together we can forge a better America."
Passage of the Keene Act ended the police strike. Only Manhattan and the Comedian chose to continue their careers in service of the United States government. Although Laurie Juspeczyk's identity had been public knowledge throughout her career and entered government service at the time (largely as Doctor Manhattan's lover), she nevertheless chose to retire her Silk Spectre II identity. Dan Dreiberg also chose to retire, but without revealing his identity. Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, had retired from superhero work and made his identity public two years before the law was passed to focus on building up his multi-billion dollar corporation.
Only Rorschach refused to comply, thus becoming a wanted fugitive in order to continue his crusade against the criminal elements of New York City. In order to make his defiance toward the new laws clear, he left the dead body of multiple-rapist Harvey Charles Furniss outside a police precinct with a note bearing only his symbolized signature and the word "neveR!".
In 2017, Senator Joe Keene, the son of J. David Keene, added an additional amendment to the Keene Act called the Defense of Police Act (DOPA), and was passed after the White Night. Senator Keene wrote DOPA so police officers could wear masks which would protect their identities.
DC Universe Rebirth
The Keene Act is replaced with a similar act passed by a fictionalized version of Senator Joe McCarthy, who infamously was one of the driving forces behind the Red Scare during the Cold War. This act, however, was not aimed at ending public vigilantism, but the covert government-sponsored activities of the Justice Society of America. The motivations behind this are unknown, but the Justice Society's existence was then covered up by the government and their existence forgotten by the general public. Only Johnny Thunder, trapped in a mental hospital and believed insane, remembers them. He is encouraged by Wally West, the original Kid Flash, to locate them in order to help prevent an unknown force (revealed to the reader as Doctor Manhattan) from once again rewriting their history and destroying their lives.
- The Keene Act and YOU 1977 video