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.