What you need to know about the law may be quite different from what a typical U.S student was taught in high school civics class and may have forgotten. The bulk of the laws in the United States that citizens may experience in their daily lives originate from statutes that were created by the legislative branches of the federal and state governments. Many civil (non-criminal) laws are enforced through regulations created by administrative agencies. Laws and regulations are interpreted, and can sometimes be ruled as unenforceable, by the courts.
In the United States, a law is not one of the Ten Commandments. It was not delivered from up on high. It’s the result of hardworking, but fallible, politicians and their staffs or the work of judges who are responsible to review how laws have evolved and how preceding cases should affect a decision that they need to make. Laws are mainly the result of discussions and reflect often the need to strike a balance among groups that have many different political concerns. If you’re knowledgeable about a particular topic and look at a statute that covers it, you may see that one area may be very relevant while other areas are not as relevant.
Laws can change as politics change. An event may have happened that sparked the public’s interest, there was political pressure to “do something about it” and a law was passed. Politicians issued press releases and spoke of their achievements at a bill signing ceremony. But as time passed, it may have become apparent that the law was not clearly drafted or that it went in a direction beyond what was anticipated. Then there can be later political pressure to revise the law, which may result in an amended or repealed law.
Administrative agencies and courts have crucial input on how laws actually affect people, businesses and organizations. Whether it’s a wage and hour agency or environmental protection department, these entities enforce the law. Within limits, they have leeway over which laws and regulations they may want to focus on enforcing while other areas may take lesser priority. These agencies create regulations, subject to judicial review, that provide interpretation or fill in details left out of statutes. How broadly or narrowly regulations are written can have a major impact on the enforcement of a law.
Judges, like politicians, are hardworking but fallible. They come under a lot of criticism, which may be justified or not, depending on the circumstances.
Many of the cases before them may be clear-cut and simple while other cases may be more complex and have severe impacts on businesses, people and government agencies. Judges are people too. They make mistakes at times, but just like you, most of the time they do the best they can do, reviewing the most updated information at hand.
If you’re being impacted by one law or another, knowing the process by which it was created can help you understand better how to handle the law. While a law may be causing you problems, it may be helping many others, so that is why that law exists. It was not the result of divine intervention. The law was made, interpreted and enforced by people, who are doing their jobs, though not always perfectly. As the result of a very long, often political, imperfect process, a law was passed. An agency may have created regulations within proper limits and took actions to enforce it, but not always with the ideal budget to enforce and not always without mistakes. Judges make legal decisions based on prior cases, other laws, state or federal constitutions, the facts of the case before them and a desire to do the right thing.
If you’ve been severely impacted by a law and you think you’re unfairly suffering as a result, it may be time for you to get involved in the process of how laws get created and revised. Contact your political representative or contact those who would want to hear how you want the legal landscape to change; the more you learn and communicate, the more options that may open up to you on how to make long-lasting public changes that not only affect you, but future generations.