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What is the Rule of Law?

4. What is the “rule of law”?

The rule of law is the orderly passage and execution of laws by a governing body. In the United States, a representative democracy, laws exist to serve or represent the interests of the greatest number of people. Enforcement of the law is done to both maintain order within the community and to create a system in which individuals can be productive. An important aspect of the rule of law is that it applies uniformly to all individuals. That is, the law is not applied selectively to some individuals and not others. If laws are applied generally to all individuals, there is little reason or motivation for the use of law to oppress or gain advantage over others. A functioning rule of law system is essential for economic productivity. Again, the just and uniform application of law across the population creates trust and confidence . Individuals can rest assured that their rights will be protected through the elimination of any unfair advantages or disadvantages to individuals under the law.

•    Discussion: Imagine a society where the law applies differently to different individuals because of status, wealth, demographic characteristics, etc. For example, Tom could enter into an agreement with Anna and blatantly breach that agreement with no repercussions or method for Anna to enforce her the contractual rights. In contrast, if Anna were to breach the agreement, Tom could seek redress and Anna could suffer negative repercussions under the law. This is a common occurrence in countries with weak rule-of-law systems. In such countries, individuals in power manipulate the law to the advantage of certain individuals or classes of people over others. In the business context, such occurrences result in a lack of confidence by those disadvantaged individuals in taking part in commercial activity. Looking back on the history of the United States, can you think of examples of movements to strengthen the rule of law? Hint: Look up the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage Movements.

•    Practice Question: Jane is a diplomat. She is participating in a presentation to a judicial figure in a rebuilding Middle-Eastern country. When explaining the role of each branch of government in the United States, the judicial official asks the following questions. “The Supreme Court may do away with a law that it believes treats certain people unfairly? What if the President wants to continue to enforce that law? How can a court with nine members order the commander of the military to do something?” Can you respond to these questions in a way that summarizes the US system’s dependence upon the rule of law?

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