What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules that govern the conduct of people. It can include private and public laws, as well as regulations issued by government agencies and boards. New laws appear in yearly editions of the United States Statutes at Large (public laws) or the Code of Federal Regulations (private laws).

Constitutional documents define the basic powers and operations of the state, including the rights that must be respected and the goals that should be pursued. These documents may also provide remedies to violations of rights, such as restitution and compensation for unjust gains or proximate losses.

Whether a legal norm has been justified turns on the factual circumstances surrounding the recognition of the right and on whether it is correlative to other rights. Sometimes a right correlates to a duty that vests at the time of its recognition; other times, the duty is conditioned on certain states of affairs so that the right only vests when the duty has been met.

Hohfeldian forms of legal norms are often paired with deontological principles, eschewing considerations of utility and policy. Such deontological principles are rooted in the natural law tradition, which holds that positive law must conform to the tenets of an ideal law.