Law is a system of laws developed and enforced by governmental or communal bodies to govern behavior, generally with its exact definition a matter of perennial debate. It is often defined as the art and science of civil law. Civil law involves adjudication of disputes between individuals or groups, whether in a formal court system or through other intermediaries such as family courts or customary law tribunals. Although it may sometimes seem difficult to draw distinctions among various types of law, the discipline of law seeks to understand the society in which it exists and how that society’s members interact.

Jurisprudence is the body of law that governs conduct within the judicial system. Within this body of law, there are two major categories: legislative and executive. Legislation, or laws, are laws passed by legislators enacting laws-for example, a new Federal Trade Commission Act. Executive branch law includes the decisions and actions of the president and cabinet officers. Statutory law is laws that have legal force only after they have been enacted. The chief executive branches of the state and federal governments typically define and administer statutory law.

Within the jurisdiction of the courts, there are 7 general areas of law. They are enumerated in Article III of the constitution of the United States: “The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested exclusively in a Supreme Court and the courts shall have concurrent jurisdiction over, and may receive appeals from, the Supreme Court.” Additionally, there are 11 common law courts established by state constitutions and statutes. These include: Circuit courts, common law courts, bankruptcy courts, probate courts, family courts, and courts, bankruptcy courts, federal courts, probate courts, supreme court, inferior court, registry of deeds, and recorder courts.

Beyond the jurisdictions of the states and federal government, there are many additional forms of government established through legislation. These include: municipal governments such as cities, towns, and counties, municipal ordinances, professional organizations, industries, trade associations, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, Indian tribes, and others. In the United States, there are also varying jurisdictions that govern the extent to which religious beliefs and other informal social expectations govern the relationship between government and religion in the private sector. For instance, corporations do not have the same rights as people in civil society regarding the regulation of corporations and religious associations.

Within the courts, there are two main theories of law: absolute and limited. An absolute law is a law whose commands cannot be disobeyed. A limited law, on the other hand, imposes limits on the government or establishes limitations only to an absolute law. Some common examples of limitation in the courts include restrictions on substantive and procedural rights, restrictions on substantive conduct, exclusive remedies, and immunities.

Many of the different types of law exist because of historical practices, common law, and the need for particular societal needs. Historically, the courts developed out of the need for stable societies that could administer justice. Over time, the development of judicial law developed to address pressing societal issues including religious tolerance, freedom of speech and religion, property rights, and economic status/power. The development of legal systems in different countries, as well as the relative strength of different legal systems, vary from country to country. The law definition website is a valuable resource for researching the history of law.

By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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