What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that governs human societies, the actions of government and private citizens, the way people can make and break contracts, the basis of property ownership and possession, criminal justice, how courts work, and more. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors are the professionals who deal with defending rights, securing justice, and enforcing laws.

The philosophy of law is a broad area, and there are many different schools of thought on the subject. The natural-law school argues that some rights are innate and “God-given” and that governments cannot legitimately take them away. Other legal theories are based on the positive or normative principles of society, which emphasise things like fairness and equality.

For more on the relationship of law to social and political structures, see constitution; censorship; crime and punishment; legal education; and power. Laws are the core of all governmental systems and have a variety of functions, including maintaining order in a society; keeping the peace; preserving the status quo; protecting minorities against majorities; providing for social justice; and allowing for regulated and ordered social change. Laws are typically created by legislatures (legislators) and implemented by executive and administrative branch agencies, which also publish and codify the laws they create into a code known as the United States Code. Judicial interpretations of the meaning of federal statutes and regulations carry great weight under the doctrine of stare decisis.