Law, in its broadest sense, is a system of rules and principles used to regulate human behavior. It can be created and enforced by social or governmental institutions.
In a nation, the legal system serves to keep the peace; maintain the status quo; preserve individual rights; protect minorities against majorities; promote social justice; and provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems serve these purposes better than others, and each nation has its own unique mix of laws.
Constitutions often determine how laws are made and enforced; for example, in the U.S., the Constitution identifies specific individual “rights” that the government must respect. These rights include freedom from an established state religion, a government-controlled press, unlawful searches and cruel and unusual punishments.
A government’s authority to make and enforce laws is based on its political power. It can be controlled by a single person, such as a president, or by many people, such as in a democracy.
Some governments may have their own laws, while others use the rules of other nations as guidance. In the United States, Congress makes laws and appoints judges to interpret them.
State courts review these laws, too, and can invalidate them if they don’t follow the state’s constitution. Federal courts do not write or pass laws, but they can establish individual “rights” under the Constitution and federal laws through interpretations of these documents by judges.
There are various branches of the law, such as civil law, criminal law, and administrative law. These areas are regulated by agencies, boards and commissions, as well as by courts of law.
Laws are often influenced by the constitution of a country, and can be modified as a result of revolutions. They may also be influenced by custom or a code of conduct.
Creating and enforcing law is a complicated process that requires extensive knowledge of the history of a country, as well as expertise in legal theory. It also involves a great deal of creativity and resourcefulness in order to achieve its objectives.
Laws can be found in every society and range from small local regulations to international treaties. Each nation’s laws reflect its culture, traditions and historical development.