Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It can be made by a legislature, producing statutes, by the executive branch, through decrees and regulations, or by judges, creating case law. Laws may be explicit or implicit, written or unwritten, and can be influenced by a constitution, whether formal or tacit. Laws govern all aspects of human activity, from private relationships to the international dimensions of trade and peacekeeping.
The study of law is a source of scholarly inquiry in the fields of legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It also raises fundamental questions of equality and fairness that go beyond the specific laws themselves. For example, it is a topic of much debate about whether our current judging class should be more diverse (see judicial review). Other deep areas of discussion concern the nature of power and its limits, such as those raised by Max Weber in his study of bureaucracy. The extension of state power by the modern military, policing and the civil service poses particular problems about accountability that Locke and Montesquieu could not have foreseen.
Among the most important goals of law are to ensure that everyone receives equal treatment under the law, and to prevent a majority from infringing on the rights of minorities. This is accomplished through a variety of means, including criminal laws and constitutional protections such as the right to free speech and to assemble. Civil rights and civil liberties are further protected through the courts, which can hear complaints from those who have been harmed or discriminated against in various ways.
In addition, laws are intended to encourage social harmony and protect people from each other’s harmful conduct. For instance, property laws provide a way to resolve conflicts over ownership of goods, such as land or cars. Tort laws provide compensation for injuries caused by another person’s actions, such as an automobile accident or defamation of character.
Other areas of the law cover topics such as labour law, which includes regulation of a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and family law, which covers marriage, divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Tax law concerns the amounts people must pay in taxes and the rules about which materials are admissible in court to build a case.
Law is a vital part of any well-ordered society, and helps to ensure that its citizens can pursue their lives in peace. However, even in the best of societies, disputes arise. To solve these conflicts, the law provides a nonviolent means of resolving them, and is enforceable by a police force, courts or other agencies. In the United States, federal laws are passed through Congress and signed by the president, or allowed to pass over his or her veto, while individual regulations are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations. State laws are passed by state legislatures and enacted by the governor or other elected official.