What Is Law?

Law is a set of principles and customs that are enforced by a sovereign power. Law is often viewed as an important component of any society, since it can help to ensure that fair and equitable treatment is given to all citizens regardless of their wealth or social status. Law is also a vehicle for expressing moral values such as honesty, rationality, and order. In modern society, laws can be found at all levels of government and in many private sector organizations.

The exact definition of law is a matter of opinion. Some people define it as a formal system of rules created by a sovereign power that are followed because they are backed by threats. Others view the meaning of law more broadly and include any powerful rule made by an authority that must be obeyed. For example, your parents’ house rules could be regarded as laws, as could an instinctive behavior such as running to save your life in the face of danger.

In the United States, where the Constitution grants Congress the power to enact statutes for certain limited purposes such as regulating interstate commerce, the law is contained in the United States Code, which is compiled and codified by the Office of the Federal Register and the Library of Congress. In addition, the executive branch agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission have the power to create regulations that are binding on businesses in the United States. The courts, meanwhile, interpret the meaning of these laws through case law, which is binding on lower courts through the doctrine of stare decisis.

Other legal systems rely on a combination of constitutional law, statutory law and judicial interpretations of these laws. For example, in common law countries, decisions of higher courts are binding on lower courts under the principle of stare decisis, and the judge’s decision is considered part of the law. In contrast, civil law countries use legislative statutes and the judgments of judges are merely persuasive in that they provide guidelines for future adjudicators.

In the context of religion, some religious communities have a legal system that is based on their own religious precepts. For example, the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia act as sources of law through a process of interpreting the scriptures and applying the rules of Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent. The Christian canon acts as a source of law in some church communities as well. In some cases, these religious laws supplant existing secular or civil law systems. In other cases, they coexist alongside the secular or civil law.