Principles of American Democracy
What Is the Rule of Law

What is the “rule of law”?

The "rule of law" is a principle of governance that all persons, institutions, and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated. These laws are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.

Under the rule of law:

  • Law Supremacy: The law is supreme over the actions of both individuals and government officials.
  • Equality Before the Law: Every individual, regardless of their status, is subject to the law. No one is above the law, and everyone is equal under the law.
  • Fairness: The laws are clear, known, and enforced. Laws are not retroactively applied.
  • Separation of Powers: There's a division of powers among different branches of government. Typically, this division is between the legislative (law-making), executive (law-enforcing), and judiciary (law-interpreting) branches. This separation prevents an abuse of power.
  • Due Process: The government must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person according to the law. Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects the individual person from it.
  • Human Rights: Fundamental human rights are protected.

The rule of law is a cornerstone of democratic societies and is essential for maintaining social order. It is a safeguard against both anarchy and tyranny, providing a framework within which people can live peacefully together.