29 March 2012
Bending the Rule of Law
What is the rule of law? It is often heard—from the mouths of politicians, judges, CEOs, and the President himself—but does anyone stop and ponder its true meaning and implications? The rule of law is the belief that all people fall equally under the law. This means that no one person or group is above the law, and conversely, no one person or group is below the law. The reason the concept of the rule of law is so powerful is because it is an idea accepted shared by many; and ideas do not die, as V from V for Vendetta so vehemently pointed out. The rule of law does not deal with specifics of how people should live, but the concept that everyone should live under the same rules. It does not differentiate among wealth, title, birth, social standing, or stature; that is why the rule of law is of such immeasurable importance.
The United States is founded on the principle of the rule of law—this notion that all people play on fair grounds. The Founding Fathers repeatedly pushed the idea that if a government’s rule were to be legitimate and just, it would impose the law equally to all (Greenwald). Thomas Jefferson frequently expressed the significance of equality under the law. "In America, no other distinction between man and man had ever been known but that of persons in office exercising powers by authority of the laws, and private individuals. Among these last, the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar" (Forman 407). Those who built our country did so with this kind of equality in mind: The “poorest laborer” can go up against the wealthiest
elites and stand a fair chance. It was of the utmost importance that this was possible, because the alternative is unthinkable:
Of distinction by birth or badge, [Americans] had no more idea than they had of
the mode of existence in the moon or planets. They had heard only that there were
such, and knew that they must be wrong. A due horror of the evils which flow
from these distinctions [by birth or badge] could be excited in Europe only, where
the dignity of man is lost in arbitrary distinctions, where the human species is
classed into several stages of degradation, where the many are crushed under the
weight of the few… (Forman 407) Common law is derived from accepted principles—rather than by one’s status or similar factors—and is applied equally to all. A nation without the distinction of the rule of law is a nation of lawlessness.
Unfortunately, while the rule of law is boasted of by the United States, rarely has it been adhered to. Throughout the history of the U.S., the basic principles of the rule of law has been violated—from slavery, to the treatment of Native Americans, to the denial of the right to vote for woman (Greenwald). It is not a too far a stretch to suggest that this nation has been founded on hypocrisy. Even the Founding Fathers expressed the desirability of have a society with a few very rich and many poor, with a big gap between them (Greenwald, The Rule). However, they made clear that this gap must be the outcome of fair play. Only then could it be justifiable. The problem is that this gap has emerged, but not as an outcome of fair play, and is therefore far from justified. The crimes committed by Wall Street in the past decade crashed the U.S. economy; but instead of being held responsible for these crimes, they were bailed out with government money.
Eighty-five billion dollars went to AIG alone from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department (Goodman 136). It is this injustice that led to the current ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement. Insurance and finance companies were deemed “too big to fail,” so an exception was made. By definition, there are no exceptions to the rule of law.
The list of present-day...
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