The Rule of Law


          The concept of the "Rule of Law" does not have a precise definition, and its meaning can have variances between different nations and legal traditions. Further, an International Rule of Law as applied by one of the World Courts will likely differ somewhat from a particular nation’s application to its own citizenry. Generally accepted, however, are the notions that the Rule provides for a moral structure by holding all citizens accountable no matter what their position and by protecting the rights of citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of government power. It is a legal-political regime under which the law restrains the government by promoting certain liberties and creating order and predictability regarding how a country functions. A broader scope, arguably intended by the founders of this Nation such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson is the control of government through limitations on official power accomplished through the Constitution and the laws passed by the representatives of the people.

The ideas that form the Rule can be found as early as Socrates and traced from Greek culture through Roman law to Common Law.

In 1241,  the preamble of first constitution of Denmark (Jyske lov) contained these statements:

"The law must be honest, just, reasonable, and according to the ways of the people. It must meet their needs, and speak plainly so that all men may know and understand what the law is. It is not to be made in any man's favor, but for the needs of all them who live in the land.", and

“If there was no law in the land, then he had most who could get the most. Therefore the law is made for everyone’s benefit, so that the just and peaceful and innocent can enjoy their peace, and the unjust and evil can live in fear of that which is written in the law, and therefore will not dare to act out the evil deeds they have in mind.”



U.S. State Department Definition of the Rule

"The Rule of Law

For much of human history, rulers and law were synonymous -- law was simply the will of the ruler. A first step away from such tyranny was the notion of rule by law, including the notion that even a ruler is under the law and should rule by virtue of legal means. Democracies went further by establishing the rule of law. Although no society or government system is problem-free, rule of law protects fundamental political, social, and economic rights and reminds us that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only alternatives.

* Rule of law means that no individual, president or private citizen, stands above law. Democratic governments exercise authority by way of law and are themselves subject to law's constraints.

* Laws should express the will of the people, not the whims of kings, dictators, military officials, religious leaders, or self-appointed political parties.

* Citizens in democracies are willing to obey the laws of their society, then, because they are submitting to their own rules and regulations. Justice is best achieved when the laws are established by the very people who must obey them.

* Under the rule of law, a system of strong, independent courts should have the power and authority, resources, and the prestige to hold government officials, even top leaders, accountable to the nation's laws and regulations.

* For this reason, judges should be well trained, professional, independent, and impartial. To serve their necessary role in the legal and political system, judges must be committed to the principles of democracy.

* The laws of a democracy may have many sources: written constitutions; statutes and regulations; religious and ethical teachings; and cultural traditions and practices. Regardless of origin the law should enshrine certain provisions to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens:

* Under the requirement of equal protection under the law, the law may not be uniquely applicable to any single individual or group.

* Citizens must be secure from arbitrary arrest and unreasonable search of their homes or the seizure of their personal property.

* Citizens charged with crimes are entitled to a speedy and public trial, along with the opportunity to confront and question their accusers. If convicted, they may not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.

* Citizens cannot be forced to testify against themselves. This principle protects citizens from coercion, abuse, or torture and greatly reduces the temptation of police to employ such measures."



Concise Guide to the Rule of Law
A study guide to accompany Brian Tamanaha's "On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory". 

"This paper will provide an overview of core aspects of the rule of law. It is by no means exhaustive on the subject and does not resolve any of the hard questions; it does not address any philosophical or theoretical disputes about the rule of law. Rather, it is a pragmatic guide to the basic issues...."




 PDF Transcript

Restoring the Rule of Law

On Monday, January 16, 2006, an audience of over 3,000 people visited DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC to hear a powerful speech by former Vice President Al Gore entitled "Restoring the Rule of Law. " The event was co-sponsored by American Constitution Society and The Liberty Coalition, and broadcast live by C-SPAN.  (From


The Origins of the Rule of Law

Friedrich Hayek

An excerpt from "The Constitution of Liberty." © University of Chicago Press, 1960 pp 162-175


The Rule of Law Revival  by Thomas Carothers

The Carnegie Endowment gratefully acknowledges the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations to reprint this article, which originally appeared in Foreign Affairs 77, no. 2 (March/April 1998).


Beltway Establishment's Contempt for the Rule

Glenn Greenwald on Oct. 14, 2007


How an Instrumental View of Law Corrodes the Rule of Law

Prof. Brian Tamanaha posits that:

"The United States legal tradition combines two core ideas. The first idea, known broadly as the "rule of law," is that government officials and citizens are obligated to abide by a regime of legal rules that govern their conduct. The second idea, what I call legal instrumentalism, is that law is a means to an end; or, put in more familiar terms, law is an instrument for the social good. Both ideas are taken for granted and are equally fundamental in the contemporary U. S. legal culture. Seldom is it recognized that the combination of these two ideas is a unique historical development of relatively recent provenance, and that in certain crucial respects they are a mismatched pair."

Posted on Social Science Research Network. Originally published St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-0061,
DePaul Law Review, Vol. 56, 2007



This I Believe - The Rule of Law - an essay
Attorney Michael Mullane believes that upholding the Rule of Law is vital to being an American