Good afternoon. I am grateful to the Center for Strategic and International Studies for hosting this discussion about the rule of law.
A prosperous and safe society needs to vest people with the power to govern – the ability to set enforceable rules, punish violations, and act on behalf of the people. The question is how the governing power shall be exercised. One of our nation’s founders, John Adams, advocated “a government of laws, not of men.” The goal is for the people who exercise government power to act in accordance with neutral principles and fair processes, while respecting individual rights.
The idea dates at least to the fourth century BC, when Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens.”
Last year, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation explaining that “we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather [than] … the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will. Through law, we have ensured liberty.”
As the President recognized, law provides the framework for freedom. At its best, law reflects moral choices; principled decisions that promote society’s best interests and protect citizens’ fundamental rights.
John MacArthur Maguire described law as a system of “wise restraints that make men free.” The restraints preserve liberty because they are prescribed in advance, and they apply to everyone, without regard to rank or status.