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The Role of Law

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2008

The Role of Law

Law is a system or collection of “principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people.” (Dictionary.com) In the past, people viewed law as an unchanging factor that was a part of the natural order of life. Today, most lawmakers view law as a flexible instrument that can be used to accomplish a chosen purpose. “One strength of this instrumentalist attitude is its willingness to adapt the law to further the social good. A weakness, however, is the legal instability and uncertainty those adaptations often produce.” (Mallor, 2007) A few of the most important functions and roles of laws are to peaceably settle disputes, check government power, serve the economy and society, and protect the environment.

Law plays a basic and important role in keeping the peace through civil and criminal laws. “Criminal law is the law under which the government prosecutes someone for committing a crime. It creates duties that are owed to the public as a whole.” (Mallor, 2007) A major function of civil law is the “obligations that private parties owe to each other. It is the law applied when one private party sues another.” (Mallor, 2007) However, a government body can be party to a civil suit if it sues or is sued by an individual or business.

The constitution is a great example of the restrictions or checking of government power. It promotes personal and corporate freedoms and prevents the government from taking certain actions that would restrict those freedoms. The principle of the separation of powers gives Congress, the president, and the federal courts certain powers to keep the interest of the people and businesses in mind. A system of checks and balances was set up to create a sort of equality between these powers. For example, the president and “veto legislation passed by Congress, but allows Congress to override such a veto by a two-thirds vote of each House.” (Mallor, 2007)

To serve the economy and society the government has set up contract, antitrust, and consumer protection laws. Contracts allow people to enter into an agreement knowing that the agreement is enforceable by law and the other party can be sued for breach of contract if their end of the agreement is not fulfilled or honored. “The essence of a contract is that it is a legally enforceable promise or set of promises.” (Mallor, 2007) The contract laws are essential to this modern industrialized society. No one would want to invest money into the building of a business if there was no assurance that the contractor would finishing the building or the suppliers will supply what was agreed upon. These laws can protect business investments just as it can protect individual investments or contracts.

The policy against restrictions on free competition is the basis for the antitrust statutes. “If the sole purpose of an agreement is to restrain competition, it violates public policy and is illegal.” (Mallor, 2007) There are some competition restrictions that serve legitimate business interests and are enforced, but are scrutinized very closely by the courts. The antitrust laws were led by “public demands for legislation to preserve competitive market structures and prevent the accumulation of great economic power in the hands of a few firms.” (Mallor, 2007) Large businesses were acquiring dominant positions within their industry by buying up small companies or forcing them out of business.

Consumer protection laws include product liability laws and federal regulations such as packaging and labeling, telemarketing practices, product warranties, consumer credit, product safety, and truth in lending practices. The purpose of these laws and regulations are to protect consumers from aggressive, deceptive, and abusive business practices. For example, the Do-Not-Call registry was created for consumers who preferred not to be called at home by telemarketers. Within the first few months of the registries existence approximately 50 million numbers were placed on the list.

“Historically, people assumed that the air, water, and land around them would absorb their waste products. In recent times, however, it has become clear that

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