Michele Cotton


American legal scholars and jurists have given the rule of law their sustained attention, and the international community has treated it as an important measure of societal well-being. But still the rule of law is not taken seriously. For one thing, little effort has been made to craft a definition of the rule of law that is actually useful. And even when legal scholarship does try at empiricism that could illuminate the vitality of our rule of law, it generally starts from the wrong hypotheses and uses the wrong methods. It focuses on how to achieve “access to justice” and privileges quantitative approaches and the supposed “gold standard” of the randomized controlled trial over the qualitative assessment that is necessary to hold ourselves accountable for the rule of law. However, it is nonetheless possible to derive a workable, consensus definition of the rule of law from the varied and elaborate concepts offered by legal scholars and jurists, which would provide a metric that could be used as the basis for more directly relevant research. Further, some of the research that has already been done about what goes on in our courtrooms does suggest what work evaluating the extent to which we are achieving the rule of law would look like. Such research must be done if we intend to ensure a fundamentally important mechanism for achieving many of our most cherished values, including equal treatment and social justice. We have to take the rule of law seriously if we intend to uphold those values.



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