Column: Stand up for the rule of law
On a daily basis we Americans take for granted a remarkable blessing: the rule of law. We believe that the law should govern — not the personal whims of those in power.
We believe that serious disputes should be settled in courtrooms or elections, not the streets; that we and government officials should follow the law promulgated by the state Legislature and Congress, not violate it; and that our judges base their decisions on the law, not bribery or their own policy preferences. This makes us a very fortunate people.
The rule of law means that the law governs both the people and our public servants. John Adams explained that good government and the very definition of a republic is “an empire of laws.” Adams’ cousin (and great brewmaster) Samuel Adams reflected that that the “first principles of natural law and justice” include that the government “has no absolute arbitrary power over the lives and fortunes of the people ... but it is bound to see that Justice is dispensed, and the rights of the subjects be decided, by promulgated, standing and known laws.”
For most of human civilization, the rule of law did not govern — just brute force. Despite some theatrics, the cold hard reality was that in most places and in most times, whoever controlled the sword (or sometimes the purse) ruled they way they wanted. The few times the rule of law took hold, it was quickly eclipsed by corruption, coups and dictatorships.
Even in the modern era, when the republican forms of government and rights had supposedly become the norm, the world has been a mostly cruel and brutal place. Communism, fascism, and imperialism combined to slaughter tens of millions and oppress billions. Article 125 of the Soviet Union’s Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of press, and due process — it was all a cruel joke. Show trials and lawless executions ruled the day. Article 8 of the North Korea Constitution boldly states: “the DPRK is a people-centered system under which the working people are masters of everything, and everything in society serves the working people.” That is simply a farce. North Korea is hardly alone. Only 22 of 113 nations ranked by the 2017-2018 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index have strong adherence to the rule of law.
Since our Revolution, however, America has taken a higher path. The Founders rebelled against the British Empire in major part because England was violating Americans’ rights supposedly protected by the law. The dismantling of the jury system; taxation without representation; imposing standing armies and quartering of troops; closing and obstructing colonial legislatures; and undermining judicial independence, were just a few of the long train of legal abuses and usurpations justifying independence.
And unlike any other nation in world history, when we rebelled, we wrote down the reasons and rooted the Revolution in the first principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, the social compact, equality, and the right to alter or abolish an oppressive government. In adherence to the rule of law, we then undertook another first when each newly independent state established its own written Constitution. We doubled down on that revolutionary marvel by adopting the Articles of Confederation and then the federal Constitution.
On May 1, our nation celebrates Law Day and Loyalty Day. The day (originally dubbed Americanization Day) was established in 1921 as a response to communist countries’ May Day (International Workers’ Day) celebrations. Law Day/Loyalty Day remind Americans of the importance of the rule of law. Many bar associations and schools across the state participate in Law Day activities.
Save your liberty and stand up for the rule of law. The alternative is too nightmarish to contemplate.
Hon. Michael Warren is an Oakland County
Circuit Court Judge.