What Is The Rule of Law?
We often hear how, in order for society to function, we must uphold the “Rule of Law.” But what does this mean? In one of its most simple constructions, it means that we are to be ruled by laws, not the whims of humans. Traditionally, the rule of law has the following precepts:
- The government, its agents and private entities such as banking institutions and corporations are accountable to legal authority.
- The laws of the land are accessible, reasonably understood, stable and just; they are applied evenly so as to protect the safety of the citizens and allow for the freedom to exercise fundamental rights.
- The process of enacting, administrating and enforcing the law is fair, open and efficient.
- Societal justice is delivered by a competent, ethical and independent judiciary who have adequate resources to address the needs of the community and reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
Underlying the rule of law in the United States is our Constitution. The written principles of this magnificent charter provide the framework for the actions of every government official. The separation of powers is important to the rule of law because we do not want the people making the laws to also interpret and enforce them. In the United States we have a judicial branch which interprets the laws passed by Congress and the enforcement actions of the Executive branch. Judicial review is also a key concept because without it, no one would be bound by a court’s decisions and lawlessness would issue. In the United States, the famous case of Marbury vs. Madison cemented this concept into tradition and law.
The rule of law protects political, ethnic and religious minorities from the tyranny of the majority. In this spirit it serves as a moral force for tolerance and inclusion. In a practical sense, it provides a forum in which disputes can be heard without resorting to rebellion. Many trace the roots of the rule of law to the ancient Greek societies. We see it stumble and falter many times in history, but it is always present in the western tradition and in all democratic nations. It is constantly evolving and changing to adapt to our needs.
The moral force of the profession of the law is found in the rule of law. We support the “system” because it is the best method of supporting the rule of law. Special entitlements based on race, creed, color, religion or sexual preference have no place in our law. Oppression by the majority must be vigorously defended against. Who can do this? Attorneys! Each individual attorney is the living embodiment of this concept and his or her actions has an impact on what the rule of law looks like in modern society. Are we perfect? No, far from it. But in our weakest moments when we are heartbroken by injustice, we know that we have something to fight for.
For more on this topic visit the World Justice Project, which served as the resource material for this blog article.