What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules created and enforced by governmental or social institutions that regulate behavior to ensure a peaceful society. Laws may be enacted by legislative bodies, such as legislatures, executive branches of government, or judges in common law systems. These laws can be written, oral or unwritten and cover a broad range of topics, including property, criminal, civil and international law.

While the precise definition of Law is debated, most legal scholars agree that a law is a binding rule made by an authority. This authority can be a sovereign (king, president, etc.), a group of individuals, or a corporate entity. Laws are created and enforced to protect human rights, keep the peace, promote economic development, and ensure safety for everyone. They also create and enforce penalties for breaking the rules.

Almost all societies have some form of law. Some have civil law, others have religious law or a mixture of both. Law permeates every aspect of a society, influencing relationships, governance, commerce, and individual rights. The nature of Law is complex and continuously evolving, making it a fascinating subject to study.

In the United States, law is governed by the Constitution of the United States and federal, state and local laws. The Constitution defines the limits of power that can be exercised by the federal government. Federal laws are called statutes, and they are numbered with a P, or public law, number. A bill becomes a statute when it is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. Once a statute has been enacted, it is included in the United States Code, which is a series of books that organizes the law into broad subjects, such as Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure, or Title 42 – Agriculture and Natural Resources. Each title is then divided into sections, subchapters, paragraphs, and clauses.

A law can be either a statute or a court case. Statutes are written by a legislative body, such as a legislature or a committee. They are often based on other laws, such as court cases or common sense. A statute can also be a regulation, which is an administrative decision that sets out a specific course of action for a particular problem. Court decisions, however, are given broader legal weight than legislative statutes and regulations by the principle of “stare decisis”, meaning that previous court rulings bind future judges.

In a common law system, judicial decisions become law by being published and widely distributed. These decisions are then analyzed and interpreted by other judges, attorneys, or lay people. These judicial interpretations of law make up what is known as case law. This case law is an important part of a legal system, because it helps to establish what judges think should be the outcome of cases with similar facts and circumstances. Without this law, case-by-case analysis could lead to inconsistent results that would undermine the confidence in the courts and the system as a whole.