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What Is Law?

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Law is a set of rules created by the state which form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. These are enforced by the state through mechanisms whereby if the rules are broken sanctions can be imposed. Law applies to people throughout a country although laws are often specific to certain groupings for example those that apply to children and young people or the rules concerning driving.

There are many different definitions of law, with varying ideas about what the concept means and how it works. The legal philosophy of positivism is one view, with this idea that law is simply a list of precepts that have been agreed to by the state and that these precepts are enforceable through mechanisms provided for in the constitution.

Other views have seen the law as something that fulfills a number of important social wants: it keeps order, enforces contracts, protects property rights, guarantees equality, and provides for a stable and ordered society. There is also a view that the law has a moral dimension and that its aims should be seen as including fundamental fairness, decency, and preventing cruelty.

The different ways that people define the law can be seen in the differences in legal systems that exist across the world. For example, some countries have a common law system in which decisions made by judges on cases that are heard become a collection of case law that binds lower courts through the principle of stare decisis. This is contrasted with civil law systems in which statutes, or sets of rules, are enacted by legislatures.

In the United States, federal law (the law of the land) is based on a constitutional grant of power to the executive and judicial branches of government. This law includes the Constitution itself, laws passed by Congress, regulations and treaties of the executive branch, and judicial decisions made by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. At the state level, law varies by state but broadly includes criminal and civil law, including state constitutions, state statutes, and case law.

In some areas, such as employment law and intellectual property law, there are powerful laws at both the national and state levels that coexist. In other areas, such as antitrust and trademark law, the national law supersedes state law. At the international level, there are laws regulating aviation, telecommunications, shipping, railroads, and pharmaceuticals. There are also laws governing foreign relations and money, trade, copyrights and patents, the mail, and intellectual property.

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