Chapter 1 Summary

The Rule of Law

This chapter set the stage for the rest of the textbook. As the title states, it was about the rule of law. However, it gave the reader some insight on how exactly the rule of law came into existence.

About 2,500 years ago, Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, said that people are basically self-interested, they pursue their own interests to the exclusion of the greater good or cause of justice. However, self-interest is ultimately short-sighted and self-destructive.

With that said, laws came into existence in attempt to maintain order between those who are far-sighted and short-sighted, and those who focus on the short-term and long-term.

When it comes to laws, there are several types. This includes vague laws, which are laws that fail to define their terms or are confusing. Clear laws, on the other hand, are laws that clearly define their terms and detail their application in order to limit government official’s discretion.

Another type of law is a good law. Although this term is not widely-recognized, it is defined just as it sounds. Good laws are laws that accomplish their objectives with minimum infringement on the freedom and liberties of the people. These laws are also known as well-crafted laws.

As you can see, with all these variations of law, law isn’t perfect, nor is it consist, logical, or inflexible.

Law goes hand and hand with the court system. In fact, a basic understanding of the structure of the court system in the United States is fundamental to an appreciation of the functioning of law.

The court system is massive, filled with several different levels, and can be unique to a culture. With that said, an independent court system operates in each of 50 states.  Furthermore, each of these systems operate under the authority of a relevant constitution. For example, the Supreme Court of the United States authorizes congress to establish other courts it deems necessary to the proper functioning of the federal judiciary.

In regards to the state court system, it consists of five levels. The bottom consists of county, municipal, traffic, and magistrates, then moves up to special court, then superior court, then the Court of Appeals, and lastly, located at the top, the State Supreme Court.

Another aspect of law to understand is the three branches of the federal government. The executive branch consists of the president, the cabinet, and the administrative agencies that execute laws. The legislative branch consists of the Senate and is where the House of Representatives pass laws. Lastly, the Judicial branch is where the three levels of courts review laws and adjudicate disputes.

Perhaps one of the most interesting tasks the executive branch can carry out is executive orders. An executive order is when a rule or order issued by the president to an executive branch of the government and having the force of law. In other words, if they can’t get a law to pass, they have the power to pass an executive order. An example of this would be when President Barack Obama issued an executive order that gave federal agencies greater authority to make “cyber threat” information public back in early 2013.

Civil suits, or civil cases, are also an important aspect of law to understand. These cases generally involve two private individuals or organizations that cannot resolve a dispute, so they need the judicial system to help them settle the conflict. In these types of cases, the person or party that files the complaint, or sues, is known as the plaintiff. The person or party being sued or who has the complaint file against them, is the defendant.

These cases often include witnesses and hard evidence that can support one side or another. Interestingly enough, it is possible to command someone to testify in court. This is known as a subpoena. A subpoena also can force someone or an organization to turn over all documents, emails, or other communications if they feel it is necessary in order for the case to progress. This actually happened in 2009 when the federal government issued a subpoena to a blogger named Christopher Elliott. Although the agency eventually pulled the subpoena, it still order Elliott to turn over all of his documents.

Chapter 1 also touched on several other terms that pertain to the courts, court system, and rule of law. Luckily, after reading the chapter the author put an analysis of an actual case on the final pages. The case was Marbury v. Madison, which s a landmark case by the United States Supreme Court which forms the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. This was well-placed as it allowed the reader to truly apply what they had just learned.

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