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Preserving the Rule of Law
WHAT IS THE RULE OF LAW?
WHY DO WE HAVE A RULE OF LAW?
Rule of law is the principle that all individuals, institutions, and entities (including the government itself) are accountable to laws that are:
• Publicly promoted and widely known
• Equally enforced
• Independently adjudicated (ruled and decided on)
• Consistent with international human rights principles
The idea of the rule of law is ancient but highly applicable to our Founders’ world and our world today. John Quincy Adams described the purpose of the rule of law to be “A government of laws, not men.” The idea is that laws created by our government representatives are to be fair, impartial, and understood by everyone they apply to. Rather than having one ruler or even a government decide what’s right and wrong and what happens to those who break the rules, the law decides.
Laws are not created to benefit one group over the other. They are created for the general interest and the public good. And they keep governments restrained and ordered.
Liberty is another component of the Rule of Law—shorthand for “life, liberty or property.” Liberty has two parts:
1. To prevent government action that does not serve the good of the people. When courts strike laws down as “unconstitutional,” this is where Liberty comes into play.
2. To prevent government from interfering with the common good or people’s rights they enjoy every day.
The essence of Liberty is that people are independent and not subject to the arbitrary will of others. So, government cannot regulate the private actions of people without a legitimate public purpose that serves the people. For example, laws banning contraception, abortion, homosexual relationships, interracial marriage, and same-sex marriage have all been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court because they serve no legitimate public purpose.
Most people recognize the Liberties in the following amendments (which are just a portion of the Bill of Rights):
• First Amendment: Protections against attacks on religion, the press, and public assemblies
• Fourth Amendment: Limitations on unwarranted searches
• Sixth Amendment: Defenses against condemnation without trial
• Eighth Amendment: Prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishments
DUE PROCESS OF THE LAW
Due Process of the Law is another component of the rule of law and is the reason why courts, tribunals, and government hearings occur. Due Process requires the court to apply the law equally to all people, and recognizes that every free person in the U.S. has fundamental rights and duties. For example, you have the right to an attorney. And you have the right to remain silent when interrogated by a government officer.
EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW
Equal Protection of the Law is one component of the rule of law. It means governments are not permitted to create laws that treat people differently based on their color, race, gender or condition. For example, these Constitutional amendments provide for Equal Protection:
• The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits states from imposing slavery or involuntary servitude.
• The Fourteenth Amendment declares “No State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
• The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
All three Amendments sought to protect minorities, and particularly the newly freed slaves, from domination by a hostile majority.
WHAT MAKES UP THE RULE OF LAW?
WAYS THE RULE OF LAW IMPACTS OUR LIVES
By providing for equal protection and due process (as mentioned above).
By requiring laws that authorize and outline how tax dollars are spent by a public entity, including what they are spent on, how they’re spent, and where.
By prohibiting laws that impair a party’s obligation or rights under a contract.
By appointing federal judges to hold office “during good behavior” or for life unless impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate. This ensures judges are independent and will not be affected by public or political pressure.
PROBLEMS IN THE RULE OF LAW
What happens when the judge we elect does not properly apply the rule of law?
What happens when a group of people of an economic class are treated differently under a set of laws meant to punish those who break a law?
How do we balance individual rights against the needs of society?
What if certain laws are not enforced as equally as others?
What if the law is too vague or does not have an actual application to my situation?
THE RULE OF LAW IS DECLINING
IN THE US
The rule of law has declined in more countries worldwide than it has improved.
as much as it improved
From 2016-2021 the US experienced some of the largest declines globally
Out of 140 countries, the US ranks:
103/140 in discrimination
115/140 in access to criminal justice
121/140 in access to civil justice
THE EFFECTS OF THIS DECLINE
Corresponding decline in trust in institutions including government and traditional media.
Coupled with simultaneous historic rise in social media
Increasing reliance on social media over traditional media as source of news and information
Trust in both (social and traditional media) is declining
Deep divides in which sources to trust, often along political party lines
of people use social media at least once a day
of people use traditional news sources
of the US says that they trust social media and traditional news sources less than they once did
Ongoing Threats to the Rule of Law
New Reality of Information
People-driven systems have inherent people-driven challenges
(re: people and cognitive biases)
Unreliable data sources
Unwillingness to consider other
Anyone can post anything
Perhaps worse – anyone can repost and spread anything
False information is
more likely to be spread than truth
Efforts to combat misinformation are limited and insufficient
Onus is on reader/user to fact check, critically analyze, and contextualize
BACK TO TOP
• Critical thinking is about OBJECTIVITY and having an open, inquisitive mind, and reaching your own conclusions.
Critical thought is important because it’s EMPOWERING. It enables you to efficiently gather knowledge, quickly process information, and intelligently analyze data to draw your own conclusions.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CRITICAL THINKING
HOW TO BECOME A BETTER CRITICAL THINKER
Do you possess the attributes of a critical thinker?
Do you try to understand how things really are? Are you interested in finding out the truth?
How receptive are you to new ideas, even when you do not intuitively agree with them? Do you give new concepts a fair hearing?
Do you try to understand the reasons behind things? Do you evaluate the pros and cons of your decisions?
Are you systematic in your thinking? Do you break down a complex problem into parts?
How confident are you in your own judgment? Do you have reasons for your confidence? Do you have a way to evaluate your own thinking?
Are you curious about unfamiliar topics and resolving complicated problems? Will you chase down an answer until you find it?
Do you try to see things from different perspectives? Do you take other people’s experiences into account?
OBSTACLES TO CRITICAL THINKING
I prefer being given the correct answers rather than figuring them out myself
I don’t like to think a lot about my decisions as I rely only on gut feelings
I don’t usually review the mistakes I have made
I don’t like to be criticized
FORMING YOUR OWN OPINIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
• Why is this important?
• What is the position of the speaker and what may be influencing them?
• Do I agree?
• Am I missing anything important?
• How do I know what I think I know?
• Are there other possibilities?
ACCEPTING THAT YOU MAY NOT ALWAYS BE RIGHT
IMPROVE YOUR CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS BY:
UNDERSTANDING AND ACCOUNTING FOR BIASES
• Bias can influence how someone presents information to others and how people receive that information
• Confirmation Bias: Focusing on information that only confirms existing preconceptions
• Courtesy Bias: Basing an opinion/conclusion on what is viewed as more socially acceptable to avoid conflict or offense
• Blind Spot Bias: Viewing yourself as less biased than others
EVALUATING THE MEDIA AND SPOTTING FAKE NEWS
Misinformation is false or inaccurate information (getting the facts wrong).
Disinformation, a subset of misinformation, is deliberately intended to mislead.
Existing websites can be cloned and modified
Fake tweets can be used to fool people
Bots are active on social media and are designed to dominate conversations and spread propaganda
Real images are used from unrelated events to persuade the reader the piece is credible
DON'T FALL VICTIM TO FAKE NEWS. CONSIDER:
THE TONE OF THE PIECE
HOW YOU ENCOUNTERED THE PIECE
VET THE PUBLISHER
VET THE SOURCES
Is the author trying to elicit an emotional reaction? Are you having a strong emotional reaction?
Do you hope that the information turns out to be true or false?
Is it professionally written or more of a blog? Are you seeing all caps? Does it claim to tell you something “someone” doesn’t want you to know?
How did you find the article or post? Is it in your social media feed? Did someone send it to you? Was it promoted on a website?
Is the same information published by other reputable sources?
Is the publisher well-known and/or credible? Do they have editorial standards?
Is the author identified?
Read the publishers “About me” section – are they promoting a specific agenda? Is it a satirical new site?
Does the “Contact Me” section on the publisher website include an email address that matches the site domain or does it send you to an “@yahoo.com or @gmail.com email address?
Search the name of the website. Do you see anything that raises suspicion?
Impartial sources are better than invested sources
Multiple sources are better than single sources
Sources who Verify with evidence are better than sources who assert
Authoritative / Informed sources are better than uninformed sources
Named sources are better than unnamed sources
More verification tools
TAKE THE QUIZ
Persuading and advocating
Logic and logical fallacies
EVALUATING POLITICAL CANDIDATES
STEPS FOR EVALUATING POLITICAL CANDIDATES
• What positions do they take?
• What experience and leadership qualities do they have?
Decide what you are looking for in a candidate
• Campaign literature
• Nonpartisan online voter information
• Candidate speeches
• Candidate debates
• Press reports
• Radio and television ads
Find out about the candidates by reviewing
• Who are they endorsed by?
• Who is contributing to their campaign?
• Seek the opinions of others you trust or have similar values
Learn how others view the candidate
• Learn about candidates’ leadership abilities
• Look at background and experience
• Review candidates’ campaigns and campaign materials
Evaluate candidates’ stand on issues
• Propaganda - Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
• Two examples of propaganda include the Uncle Sam army recruitment posters from World War I or the Rosie the Riveter poster from World War II. Both examples use symbols to represent strength and a sense of urgency as they encourage United States citizens to join the war effort.
Watch out for Propaganda and Distortion Techniques
Appeals to prejudice
Attacks based on race, ethnicity, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
Statements like “everyone says” or “everyone knows”
Guilt by Association
Statements like “backed by big money interests” or “candidate is good friends with abc who did/does/believes xyz.”
"Law and Order” “Un-American”
Passing the Blame
Instances in which a candidate denies responsibility for an action or blames an opponent for things over which he/she had no control
Promising the Sky
Evading real issues
Avoiding answering direct questions or offering vague solutions
How Reliable is your News Source?
All Sides Media Bias Chart
Ad Fontes, Inc. Interactive Media Bias Chart, 2022
"Is it Propaganda?" Quiz
How checks and balances work
Overview of criminal case process/
How to find an attorney
Overview of civil case process/
HOW TO TAKE ACTION
Propaganda: Types, Techniques, History, and Uses