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Rule of Law in Times of Major Disaster

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The twin blows of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack and the August 29-30, 2005, devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, clearly demonstrated that major disasters pose a multitude of challenges to the people and governments of the United States. The challenges not only threaten the lives of Americans but the legal fabric that binds our society together. The Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association convened a Task Force to evaluate whether the legal system operated effectively in these situations and whether changes could be recommended that would more completely insure adherence to the rule of law. Neither the Task Force nor the Section of Litigation considers ourselves to be experts in disaster planning. An array of professionals, with substantial talent and expertise, has contributed valuable insights on how governments, businesses and families should prepare to respond to, and overcome, a major disaster.

It is the purpose of these Principles to preserve the rule of law in times of major disaster. The Principles are intended to help insure that justice will continue to be dispensed despite the damage and disruption caused by a major disaster. The Principles are also intended to foster reliance on legal mechanisms when the effort is undertaken to restore a disaster-torn community through programs designed to compensate for loss or render assistance in recovery.


These Principles are the product of a collaborative effort, led by the Section of Litigation. In the summer of 2006, Chair of the Section of Litigation, Kim Askew, established the Task Force on the Rule of Law in Time of Calamity. Its assignment was to fashion a set of principles to help insure the preservation of the rule of law when a major disaster strikes – a matter the American Bar Association had not addressed in prior standards or principles.