A Shirley exception is a mythical exception to a draconian law, so named because supporters of the law will argue that "surely there will be exceptions for truly legitimate needs" even in cases where the law does not in fact provide any.
It appears to play on a combination of factors:
- the fair world fallacy: "this law will never be enforced in a way that is unfair"
- personal exceptionalism / leopards ate my face: "this law will never affect me or other people I know with legitimate needs"
- privilege blindness: people who aren't aware that their experience of being granted exceptions is not the norm