quotations about law

When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this.

HOWARD ZINN, Voices of a People's History of the United States


It is wrong to consider that courts are established for the benefit of the people. Those who want to perpetuate their power do so through the courts. If people were to settle their own quarrels, a third party would not be able to exercise any authority over them. Truly, men were less unmanly when they settled their disputes either by fighting or by asking their relatives to decide for them. They became more unmanly and cowardly when they resorted to the courts of law. It was certainly a sign of savagery when they settled their disputes by fighting. Is it any less so, if I ask a third party to decide between you and me? Surely, the decision of a third party is not always right. The parties alone know who is right. We, in our simplicity and ignorance, imagine that a stranger, by taking our money, gives us justice.



One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", 1963


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Where there are laws, innocence need not tremble.



Tags: Vittorio Alfieri

Anytime you live in a society supposedly based upon law and it doesn't enforce its own laws because the color of a man's skin happens to be wrong, then I say those people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice when the government can't give them justice.

MALCOLM X, Oxford Union Debate, Dec. 3, 1964


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It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, 'whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,' and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

JOHN ADAMS, attributed, John Adams: His Words


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Written laws are formulas in which we endeavor to express as concisely as possible that which, under such or such determined circumstances, natural justice demands.

VICTOR COUSIN, attributed, The Historical Wisdom of the Ages and Sages


A nation that will not enforce its laws has no claim to the respect and allegiance of its people.

AMBROSE BIERCE, "Industrial Discontent", The Shadow on the Dial and Other Essays


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Law has been called a bottomless pit, not so much because of its depth, as that its windings are so obscure nobody can see the end.

G. P. MORRIS, attributed, Day's Collacon


In my opinion, the law is not abstract, nor is the U.S. Constitution inherently good. The Constitution condoned 89 years of slavery in the U.S., and common law condoned 156 years of slavery before that. If history demonstrates anything, it is that the law is not the arbiter of morality but a parody of it. Legal justification should be regarded as the lowest rationale for a society's state of affairs, and yet the law is always our first form of recourse in adjudicating differences in public policy.

JOHN WINSTEAD, "Law is too small to contain social justice", WKU Herald, March 23, 2016


Laws are only as good as those that enforce them.

DAVID MERKEL, "Laws are Only as Good as Enforcement", Value Walk, March 25, 2016


Societies start moving menacingly on the lines of Whataboutery when law is not applied equally and justly to all.

RAJNI SHALEEN CHOPRA, "What's in the slogan!", Rising Kashmir, March 25, 2016


The law itself is accused of iniquity, and impeached, like the orators of Athens when they have persuaded the assembly to pass unjust decrees.



Tags: Aristotle

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

CHARLES DICKENS, Nicholas Nickleby


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When each citizen submits himself to the authority of law he does not thereby decrease his independence or freedom, but rather increases it. By recognizing that he is a part of a larger body which is banded together for a common purpose, he becomes more than an individual, he rises to a new dignity of citizenship. Instead of finding himself restricted and confined by rendering obedience to public law, he finds himself protected and defended and in the exercise of increased and increasing rights.

CALVIN COOLIDGE, speech, May 30, 1924


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Accursed be the city where the laws would stifle nature's!

LORD BYRON, The Two Foscari


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There never was a law yet made, I conceive, that hit the taste exactly of every man, or every part of the community; of course, if this be a reason for opposition, no law can be executed at all without force, and every man or set of men will in that case cut and carve for themselves; the consequences of which must be deprecated by all classes of men, who are friends to order, and to the peace and happiness of the country.

GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Major-General Daniel Morgan


The law should be the point at which savagery ended because civilization stood in its path.

ARIANA FRANKLIN, Mistress of the Art of Death


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Justice is immortal, eternal, and immutable, like God himself; and the development of law is only then a progress when it is directed towards those principles which, like him, are eternal; and whenever prejudice or error succeeds in establishing in customary law any doctrine contrary to eternal justice, it is one of the noblest duties, gentlemen ... to show that an unjust custom is a corrupt practice, an abuse; and by showing this, to originate that change, or rather development in the unwritten, customary law, which is necessary to make it protect justice, instead of opposing and violating it.

LOUIS KOSSUTH, Select Speeches


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Law hath dominion over all things, over universal mind and matter; For there are reciprocities of rights, which no creature can gainsay.

MARTIN FARQUHAR TUPPER, Proverbial Philosophy


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