A recent web headline read, ‘Trump sacking acting Attorney General raises new questions about his respect for the rule of law.’ And while most people might be most interested in the politics behind the headline, my attention went straight to the last three words: Rule of Law - an intrinsically moral notion and legal concept thought to symbolize an enlightened, civilized and stable society.
The World Justice Project has created a Rule of Law Index that measures the performance of 102 countries, with the USA ranking 18th in 2016. It’s organized around four key principles, beginning with the notions that the government, its officials and agents are accountable under law; and that laws must be clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including security of persons and property.
Next comes the idea that the process by which laws are enacted, administered and enforced should be accessible, fair and efficient; and lastly, access to justice must be provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
Put simply, the index seeks to prevent individuals from creating and imposing their own sets of laws that may infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. It’s based on the belief that law should govern a nation (Rule of Law) rather than a nation's people being governed arbitrarily by individual government administrators and officials (Rule by Law).
Just one little word – of instead of by – makes a critical difference. Rule by Law happens when a government uses law as the most convenient way to govern, or even control, its citizens, while maintaining absolute authority and power above the law. It brings destabilization, volatility and unrest.
The Center for Financial Stability advises that “The strength of sovereign institutions is vital for attracting and maintaining foreign and domestic capital alike. Fragile institutions coupled with faulty fundamentals present a recipe for volatile growth or excessively deep recessions.”
As Vermonters, we understand that promoting and protecting a society based upon the Rule of Law is fundamental to the pursuit of economic prosperity and social justice – and that no other issue is more pressing as the calls intensify to defend the US Constitution .