Advancing the Rule of Law Now: Subthemes
Law Day subthemes are designed to help anyone approach the 2021 Law Day theme, Advancing the Rule of Law Now from different angles and to delve more deeply into aspects of the theme. They’re designed to inspire thinking, discussion, connections, to facilitate deeper conversations and learning around the Law Day theme. Take one or all of the subthemes for your own programming or discussion plans, and see where it takes you.
Subtheme 1: What is the rule of law?
There are several definitions of “rule of law,” and its elements. We see common expressions, including “no man is above the law,” or “everyone is equal in the eyes of the law,” or “government of laws, not a government of man.” Generally, “rule of law” is a principle under which all persons and institutions are accountable to laws that are: widely and publicly shared, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated. These basic ideas emerge from centuries of traditions and law, but also align with contemporary standards in human rights and international law.
This subtheme offers opportunities to consider the “rule of law” across its many dimensions, including variations, time, and place.
Subtheme 2: What is power under the rule of law?
Power takes comes from a variety of sources and takes many forms under the rule of law. In the United States, much power is outlined in the U.S. Constitution, which established a blueprint for government and explicitly articulated powers to both federal and state governments. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution offer specific examples of limits to federal power. But we also find power beyond the Constitution, in our state, community, and daily life. Courts, elections, policing, public health mandates, local policies are all examples. We might also find power in civic traditions, places, and norms.
There is also power in the people under a rule of law system. It is very difficult for a nation to maintain the rule of law if its citizens do not respect the law. Consider the role of protests, voting, civic participation, and how of us may play a part in upholding the rule of law.
This subtheme offers opportunities to consider the role of power, how it is used, transferred, shifted, and claimed in our rule of law system.
Subtheme 3: How has the rule of law shaped and sustained us?
The Framers of the United States were very intentional in establishing the nation under law. After lifetimes of rule under other forms of government, they were clear that, as Thomas Paine wrote, “In America, law is king.” From the outset, no man would be above the law.
With that foundation, American history is filled with examples of the rule of law challenged, tested, and sustained. Likewise, over and again, the rule of law has presented for access, equity, and justice in the nation.
This subtheme offers opportunities to consider historical examples where the rule of law emerges as the star of the story, and what that meant for our nation’s own history and collective story.
Subtheme 4: How might the rule of law shape our future?
Considering the division among our nation, and the various calls for reform, change, equity, access, and even unity, it is not a stretch to consider how the rule of law could provide stability, order, and opportunity. We could consider current events, or technologies of the future, and imagine ways that the rule of law will continue to sustain and guide our nation through challenges and growth.
This subtheme offers opportunities to consider specific calls for reform or change in our country, or challenges of tomorrow, and how the rule of law might continue to shape our nation’s future.