Role and Function of Law
Laws are as ancient as civilization. They are necessary for the common good and for the welfare of society. Black’s Law Dictionary, as quoted by Melvin (2012), defines law as a “body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having legal binding force”. In other words, laws are rules of behavior that are legally binding and are enforced by controlling authority. Laws affect every aspect of our lives but most of the time we are not aware of them. We pay our taxes, observe the speed limit, and avoid stealing, without having a sense of being watched. Honesty and truthfulness are natural for most people. However, laws protect the rights of individuals and business entities and allow for compensation when injury has been inflicted.
In the United States, the legislature, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, makes laws. The President has the power to veto a bill before it is passed into law. The Supreme Court reviews laws and can invalidate laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution (Melvin, 2012). American law uses the concept of the doctrine of stare decisis (Latin “to stand by that which is decided”). Cases that have the same facts and issues have outcomes similar to cases that have previously been decided. When parties are found guilty of breaking the law, the courts order compensation in the form of money. They also have the authority to impose a particular order, for example, requiring a company to put a warning on their product label.
Article 1 of the Constitution addresses the establishment of Congress and the regulation of commerce among the States. Commonly referred to as the Commerce Clause, it is interesting to note that the definition of commerce continues to be a matter of debate. Originally it was intended to refer to trade and exchange among states but this has developed into acknowledging situations where there is a substantial economic effect on commerce among states.
The Affordable Care Act was reviewed by the Supreme Court justices in June, 2012. Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment of the court and referred to the Commerce Clause. He said, “Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do.” The court upheld the law requiring most Americans to have health insurance by ruling that it must be called a tax. The court underscored the power of Congress to regulate tax, not compel it.
Business takes place within the confines of both national and international law. At the national level there are federal, state and local laws and regulations. Contracts, taxes, employment and bankruptcy are examples of activities that come within the scope of law in every country. The Constitution is the supreme law in the United States. Federal law overrides state law and state law is superior to local laws.
Zoning laws are statutory laws governed at local level. A few years ago my religious community wanted to build offices on our property in upstate New York. The surveyors found artifacts of native Indians on the site. It started out as an uncomplicated project but soon developed into a nightmare. The local zoning board was petitioned by the local historical society, the local heritage foundation, and the local Native American Trust. We were fortunate to get a ruling that satisfied...