Respecting the Rule of Law

Americans take it for granted that no person is above the law. Yet political passions, like the hurricane waves battering shoreline barriers, can break the bounds of legal restraints and drown the countryside in chaos and misery. The French and Russian Revolutions offer chilling reminders of political intrigue overwhelming legal processes.

The French revolutionaries abandoned efforts to establish a constitutional order in favor of a Reign of Terror, while Lenin and his party pushed aside the legally constituted Russian Duma for a dictatorship of the proletariat.  

When leaders or political parties act this way, they always come forth with their excuses. Righting the wrongs done to the poor, for example, justified the bloody Terror in the eyes of Robespierre and his supporters. For those impatient with slow legal proceedings, achieving a noble goal swiftly justifies any means, even violence.

In our time, despite the overheated rhetoric of contending political interests, the rule of law has so far prevailed. Most Americans know that laws and institutions matter more for the good of the country than any appeal offered by a celebrity or a political party. 

People tend to respect those in positions of authority, yet even those in positions of authority are subject to the laws of the land. They can and should be held accountable for violating laws. Holding leaders accountable in a legal sense, however, is not about following the whims of public opinion, but allowing the officers of law and the courts to follow a deliberate course of gathering the facts, weighing the evidence, considering the laws and rendering fair and reasonable judgments.