Is the Rule of Law a Law of Rules? Judgments of Rule of Law Violations
23 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2009
Date Written: July 25, 2009
In this paper, we present findings from two experiments that measure individuals’ reactions to rule of law violations by an authority figure, with the goal of assessing which interpretation of the rule of law is naturally invoked. We created a variety of hypothetical scenarios that allowed us to gauge the independent effects of rule adherence, outcome fairness, and the violator’s intentions on the participants’ judgments of the violation. We found that adherence to legitimate rules was considered desirable when those rules worked to produce a fair outcome. But when following legitimate rules would lead to an unfair outcome, our participants paid little attention to the rules and, in some cases, punished an individual for obeying the rules when those rules led to an unjust result. In our second experiment, we focused on studying this conflict within different contexts, finding again that our participants thought it appropriate for a judge to disregard the rules of evidence to ensure a fair verdict, and for a teacher to break a school’s strict blind grading policy to ensure that students received fair grades. However, a third context revealed the formal rule of law at work: Our participants’ responses indicated a clear preference for strict rule adherence by an umpire in a baseball game, even if it meant that one of the teams would unfairly suffer.
Keywords: rule of law, moral reasoning, procedural justice
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