Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law may be created by courts, legislatures, or administrative agencies and is often codified in books. Regardless of the source, laws are intended to be clear and consistent, with specific provisions for the enforcement of the law and the punishment of violators.
Law has many functions within a society, including keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities against majorities, and providing for social justice. Some legal systems are more effective at achieving these goals than others. For example, a nation ruled by an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo but may oppress minorities or political opponents.
The concept of law is diverse, with varying definitions of the term in different cultures and historical periods. In the United States, “law” generally refers to the body of laws that a state or country has adopted, enacted, and enforced through the courts. However, some scholars use the term more broadly to include societal customs and traditions that are not legally recognized or codified.
Judges and lawyers are important players in the process of lawmaking and jurisprudence, which is the study of laws and legal cases. Various types of laws and legal documents are used in the courtroom, including legislation (bills passed by Congress), rules (regulations made by executive departments or agencies), and judgments. During trials, judges and lawyers may also call witnesses to testify about facts that are relevant to the case.
A court’s jurisdiction is the geographic area over which it has authority to decide a case. Usually, federal courts only have jurisdiction over federal cases, but in some instances, the law allows them to decide cases arising in other states or countries. A court’s jurisdiction may be limited by time, as in the case of a continuing lawsuit, or by subject matter, as in the case of a divorce proceeding.
The judge’s role is to interpret the law and apply it fairly to all parties involved in a case. He or she must not show bias or favoritism toward any party, and he or she must abide by the biblical injunction “thou shalt not respect persons in judgment; neither take a gift: for a gift blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:18). If the judge makes an error in his or her decision, the affected parties can appeal to a higher court for review. A court of appeals is a higher level court that reviews whether the lower court followed the law correctly. A person who files a request to appeal is called a plaintiff or petitioner. A court’s order granting or denying a request to appeal is called an opinion or decision. An appeal can be a successful means of overturning an earlier judgment. An appeal can be initiated by the losing party or by the winning party.