As a nation with a judicial branch that includes the United States Supreme Court as well as hundreds of appellate and local courts, the rule of law is clearly important to governance in the United States.
Some laws are necessary in order for society to flourish and a market economy to sustain itself. If not for the law enforcing the property rights and barring theft of possessions, for example, there could be no market in which to trade goods and services.
While the rule of law is crucial to the survival of our republic, the law can be abused. For example, the United States leads the world in the percentage of its population that is imprisoned, a statistic that may suggest we have too much law. Overcriminalization penalizes many people unnecessarily and costs the country millions of dollars. More than 5,000 offenses in the United States are consider felonies punishable by imprisonment.
Civil asset forfeiture programs used by law enforcement agencies across the country represent another potential abuse of the law. Assets are often forfeited without due process of law; in many states, individuals need not be found guilty in a court of law before their property is seized. Civil asset forfeiture creates incentives for law enforcement agencies by allowing them to profit off the criminal property.
Gun control, too, is considered by some to be an abuse of the law. The right to keep and bear arms has its roots in the English Bill of Rights and was critically important to America’s Founding Fathers, who embedded that right in the U.S. Constitution.
The rule of law is fundamental to the operation of a free society. Without it, there can be no protection of private property and no enforcement of contracts. The alternative to ordered liberty is the use of force or fraud, the opposite of peaceful and productive cooperation.
The Heartland Institute's experts on law and criminal justice policy are available for legislative testimony, speaking engagements, and media interviews.