Law is an organized system of laws developed and enforced by governmental or social institutions to regulate societal behavior, each with its own specific definition having no reference to other law systems. It is commonly defined as an art and a science of civil law. Historically, the law has had a profound effect on the way society organized itself. As a result, the law and its practice have often promoted social order and stability.
Historically, law developed through the application of divine law, including biblical law, judicial law, and common law jurisdictions. In most cases, a nation’s government retained ultimate authority over the legality of acts undertaken by its citizens, unless the constitution was modified by a subsequent constitutional amendment. A nation’s legislature therefore generally controls what is known as the jus primae, which means first cause. The primary sources of law are the enactments of legislative bodies, court-ordered trials and tribunals, judgments of the governing bodies of the legislature, and general laws that affect the private bodies of society such as taxation, licensing, and contracts.
The development of laws is divided into two main categories: civil and criminal law. Civil laws seek to protect the rights of individuals within a polity, such as in health care, education, labor, marriage, and criminal law, while criminal laws seek to provide punishment for crimes, including capital punishment and rehabilitation. There are seven classes of civil laws, the three major ones being property laws, contracts law, and personal injury law.
Civil laws vary vastly in scope, even within a single country. Within a country, for example, property laws tend to have substantial differences from state to state, while family laws may be highly restrictive or lenient according to region. Additionally, civil and criminal laws are overlapping, as the courts may have subject matters of common law jurisdiction. This situation arises frequently in the United States. Criminal law, unlike civil law, creates its own separate system with extensive juries, mandatory sentences, and distinctions based on standing, motive, and intent.
Private rights include the right to life, liberty, and the freedom of speech and expression, which are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution and are closely related to civil rights. Civil rights include those guaranteed by the Constitution, including the right to vote, free speech, and peacefully assemble. In addition to these, other forms of natural rights such as privacy, right of privacy, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures are also protected by law. Natural law, which includes the theories of property, person, and civil law, is the major influence in shaping private law in the United States. Civil and criminal law is the source of law that is used in courts to resolve disputes involving public or private rights. Civil law is the body of law that addresses non-criminal cases between individuals.
Commercial law refers to those laws that affect commerce, such as trademarks, copyrights, and patents, as well as the licensing of goods and services. A trademark is a word, symbol, or design that is registered by a government or some private entity with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure the rights to use the mark. The United States Copyright Office enforces all of the laws against piracy and plagiarism in addition to the intellectual property laws that protect artistic creations like books, music, films, and computer software.