With all of the headlines in the media today, one common phrase among most is the “rule of law“. What exactly is the “rule of law“? According to American Bar Association, the concept for the “rule of law” dates back all the way to the year 1215 in Article 39 of the Magna Carta, in which it is stated,
“No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land…”
Basically, this meant that the fate of a person or thing should not be placed in the hands of a single individual, but should be subject to the laws of the land. This set the stage for the concept of due process in the future. This also was defined by the concept of the “separation of powers” by James Madison in “The Federalist Papers”, which was later included in the United States Constitution. The purpose of including the “separation of powers” by the framers of the U.S. Constitution was to prevent the abuse of power by any one person through the establishment of three distinct branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) known as the system of checks and balances.
The American Bar Association mentions that this institution of government was purposefully established “…to ensure that no one in the government has so much power that they can act above the law.” In a governmental system wherein the “rule of law” is appropriately enforced, the government is subject to openness and transparency within the executive and legislative branches and the fair and impartial independent practices of the judicial branch. In this type of environment, the people within this nation should be able to expect predictable results wherein everyone should be able to expect the same results. If this is not the case, then the American Bar Association suggests that the “rule of law does not exist”.
In 2007, the World Justice Project suggests that there are “four universal principles of the rule of law“:
- Accountability – The government, as well as private actors, are accountable under the law,
- Just Laws – The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights,
- Open Government – The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient, and
- Accessible and Impartial Dispute Resolution – Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
These principles were developed in accordance with internationally accepted norms and standards. However, they also embody the spirit of what was initially intended by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. In consideration of this, it is imperative for each of us to pay closer attention to the events taking place within our government.
Why should we proceed with caution? It appears that, in recent days, contempt for the “rule of law” is constantly being projected by one group, while attempts are simultaneously being made to uphold it by the other. In the coming days, we may find ourselves witnessing a serious challenge to principles that have undergirded the political rights and civil liberties of the American population in a fair and impartial way.
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”