Holding Fast To The Rule Of Law - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Patrick Pihana Branco

Patrick Pihana Branco is the state House representative for District 50 (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay).

Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet “Common Sense” that the Rule of Law is king, not a personality, a politician or a power broker. Based on this, the Founding Fathers established our nation on the foundation that laws govern, not individuals.

Today’s news is filled with confusion and chaos, often ignited by a blatant disregard for the Rule of Law embedded in the Constitution. Without this founding principle, our nation will face frightening and certainly dire consequences.

Most simply put, the Rule of Law means that laws apply equally to everyone in a democracy, even the most powerful government officials and elected leaders. It also means that laws are created by an open, fair and transparent process, not by a few powerful leaders or entities in our society.

Have you ever considered what would happen if there were no laws? Or what would happen if only some decided to follow the rules and others arbitrarily decided not to? The obvious answer is chaos. Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would evaporate and we would be faced with anarchy.

Our common welfare is protected by rules and regulations. Agreed, sometimes it appears that government is overstepping by creating yet another statute or ordinance. If everyone did the right thing all the time, we might not need so many laws.

Having worked throughout the world as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, I’ve experienced firsthand the consequences created by degrading the Rule of Law.

Equality, freedom of speech and religious freedom are often challenged without the protections afforded by strong legal sanctions. When dictators usurp the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, important democratic institutions are neutralized and are no longer effective.

When the Rule of Law is strong, no one is capable of unduly weighting the law in their favor. Michael Coghlan/Flickr

I have been deeply concerned about our country maintaining the checks and balances provided by our Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence.

Whether it be in Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary, the Philippines, or even our own country, the Rule of Law is being tested and stressed like never before. This year, the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index reported that, “More countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance for a third year in a row, continuing a negative slide toward weakening and stagnating rule of law around the world.”

The good news is that the Rule of Law still effectively directs our nation because most people, businesses and local governments do adhere to the law. Today there is hopefulness in our nation because the Rule of Law has just survived rigorous testing and challenge.

We follow the law because it protects us, our ohana and loved ones. Hawaii’s government is based on a respect for the rule of law and confidence that we can rely on a society ruled by law and order applied fairly and impartially.

As a Kamehameha Schools graduate, I recall many stories representing our culture’s deference to fairness and righteousness through good governance. Interestingly, just around the time that Paine wrote “Common Sense,” King Kamehameha established the Law of the Splintered Paddle.

During a village raid in 1782, Kamehameha caught his foot in a rock. Fearful of the great warrior, two local fisherman hit Kamehameha on the head with a paddle, breaking the paddle and leaving him for dead. Twelve years later, the fishermen were brought before Kamehameha for punishment. The leader blamed himself for attacking innocent people, gave them gifts and set them free.

The Law of the Splintered Paddle was the first edict declared by Kamehameha as Mō‘ī. According to Hawaiian tradition, it was to shield his people from harm as they moved throughout the land under his control. He believed that human life was to be respected and it was wrong to mistreat those who were weaker. Like the Rule of Law, the Law of the Splintered Paddle provided the foundation where laws, rather than leaders, determined how we should govern.

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About the Author

Patrick Pihana Branco

Patrick Pihana Branco is the state House representative for District 50 (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay).

Latest Comments (0)

Despite the impassioned defense of the "Rule of Law" the unfortunate reality is that the rule of law has broken down and accelerated after the Patriot Act, with no bankers went to jail for the 2008 crisis, the fraudulent evidence for initiating the invasion of Iraq, the politicized judicial system offering justice for those that can afford it, a tax system that allows the rich to avoid paying their share of taxes which justifies tax avoidance for the rest, and the legalization of political graft and bribing, and the list goes on.I think Mr. Branco wouldn't be writing this defense of the status-quo unless he sensed like so many that there is a break-down of the rule of law in this country. Faced with these facts, we must some how avoid a breakdown of civil society and the civil behavior we so appreciate, and yet change the status-quo and it's arbitrary self-serving rules of law. That's the collective task at hand.

Joseppi · 2 years ago

"Rule of law" is enforced subject to interpretation by government. Only the government's understanding of the laws matters, unless you have enough money to argue your case in court, and even then, government will always have more money and better lawyers than you.Law may be absolute, but rule is subjective.

rfc · 2 years ago

Branco's commentary would be a lot more meaningful if it said how the rule of law applies to specific issues like TMT and crimes committed by Trump.

sleepingdog · 2 years ago

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