Law is a set of rules imposed by social or governmental institutions that regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of debate, but it has usually been described as a system that establishes standards, maintains order, resolves disputes and protects liberties and rights. It is also a system that requires accountability from both government and private actors.
A law may be a written statute or an informal code of behavior that is enforced by courts and other tribunals. It can also refer to a general body of principles that governs a particular subject area such as criminal law, property law or contract law. A legal scholar who studies and understands law is called a jurist.
In the United States, law is a wide field of study. It includes a variety of topics such as civil rights, crime, international law, constitutional law, family law and more. Civil rights laws deal with issues such as equality, fairness and due process of law. Criminal law deals with the punishment of crimes such as murder, robbery and fraud. Property law determines people’s rights and duties to tangible objects such as cars and homes and intangible assets such as bank accounts and shares of stock.
Law is not an empirical science and cannot be verified by experimentation, a fact which can make it difficult to evaluate its validity or moral worth. It is also dependent on the shape of the physical world and its limitations, which means that it cannot mandate behaviours that are impossible for human beings to accomplish or force people to do things beyond their capabilities.
A judge is a government official with the authority to decide lawsuits brought before it. A judge’s judgment is the final decision of a case, determining the respective rights and claims of all parties to the dispute. Generally, a judge has jurisdiction over a geographic area and can only decide cases that originate in that region.
In the courtroom, lawyers present arguments on behalf of their clients. A lawyer’s brief is a written document that sets out the argument he or she wants the judge to hear. The judge can accept, reject or modify the lawyer’s brief.
The term precedent means that a previous decision by a court with similar facts and law should be followed, unless there is a good reason to not do so or the prior decision is significantly different from the case currently before the court. This is true for most state and federal courts.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has binding precedent, meaning that other lower courts must follow its decisions unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. The Supreme Court can overturn its own decisions, however.