In the United States, legislators, judges, administrative agencies, governors, and presidents make law, with substantial input from corporations, lobbyists, and a diverse group of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) such as the American Petroleum Institute, the Sierra Club, and the National Rifle Association. In the fifty states, judges are often appointed by governors or elected by the people. The process of electing state judges has become more and more politicized in the past fifteen years, with growing campaign contributions from those who would seek to seat judges with similar political leanings.
In the federal system, judges are appointed by an elected official (the president) and confirmed by other elected officials (the Senate). If the president is from one party and the other party holds a majority of Senate seats, political conflicts may come up during the judges’ confirmation processes. Such a division has been fairly frequent over the past fifty years.
In most nation-states (as countries are called in international law), knowing who has power to make and enforce the laws is a matter of knowing who has political power; in many places, the people or groups that have military power can also command political power to make and enforce the laws. Revolutions are difficult and contentious, but each year there are revolts against existing political-legal authority; an aspiration for democratic rule, or greater “rights” for citizens, is a recurring theme in politics and law.
Law is the result of political action, and the political landscape is vastly different from nation to nation. Unstable or authoritarian governments often fail to serve the principal functions of law.
- Consider Burma (named Myanmar by its military rulers). What political rights do you have that the average Burmese citizen does not?
- What is a nongovernment organization, and what does it have to do with government? Do you contribute to (or are you active in) a nongovernment organization? What kind of rights do they espouse, what kind of laws do they support, and what kind of laws do they oppose?