COMMENTARY 773.3: What’s So Important About the Law?

Did you know today is Law Day?

In 1958 President Eisenhower declared May 1st Law Day to honor the critical role of law in our unique constitutional democracy. It may seem peculiar to some to celebrate the concept and reality of law, but the truth is that most of us vastly under-appreciate the significance of law to our way of thinking and our way of life.

Sure, we can criticize the lawmaking process which yielded Otto von Bismarck’s famous observation: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” But what’s the alternative?

And it’s easy to criticize particular laws and court decisions we disagree with, but it would lead to chaos if we only felt obliged to abide by the laws we agree with.

We need laws to allow us to enforce contracts, discourage unsafe driving, assure the safety of food and drugs, and even to protect us from our neighbor’s dog. And without laws to enforce or constitutional rights to free speech, religion, privacy, and fair trials, the liberties we hold so dear would be nonexistent.

Laws, and the courts we empower to enforce them, allow us to resolve personal disputes peaceably, but they also provide a rational way to mediate passionate political and ideological disagreements, even about the meaning and effect of the constitutional principles the courts are empowered to uphold.

Unless we want to abandon the fundamental principles of democracy, we must accept the law as the final arbiter of legal, political and ideological disputes, including those concerning controversial issues such as stem-cell research, abortion, same-sex marriages, access to automatic weapons, and how to deal with suspected criminals and terrorists.

Though it is certain that no legal solution will please everyone, these areas of intense disagreement are precisely the ones where we most need citizens to respect and abide by democratic processes.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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