American Law Has Both an Abstract and a Concrete Facet; Only the Latter Constitutes the Object of Legal Research

Both “law” and “laws” are concepts with multiple meanings. In any legal system, law is often viewed as the means to reach an ideal of legitimate order, while laws are specific types of recorded legal norms that make that ideal possible.

Law is also a branch of knowledge that studies the rules governing people’s behavior in relation to each other. Law is both discourse about power and power in action. As discourse, legal studies embrace legal philosophy, in its wider sense as “general reflection on the nature of legal institutions.” More exact, legal methods and legal research explain law by explaining how government institutions (the legislative, executive, and administrative branches) work and how we can research their products (statutes, cases, and administrative rules, regulations, or decisions).

In other words, while law aims at “making society more stable and enabling people to flourish,” legal studies decipher it both in its abstract ideal and in its concrete daily performance as rules in action, which govern human behavior. Its latter aspect is represented by concrete norms of conduct that the state enforces when they are violated.
For example, society maintains order by enforcing particular rules. If you do not pay your rent, the landlord can evict you, and if you refuse to leave the premises, the sheriff-or another law enforcement officer-will forcibly move you and your belongings out into the street. Such clear discrete legal norms constitute the object of legal research.
These are man-made rules because they are passed by citizens organized in assemblies. They are thus different from the laws of nature that one studies in physics, biology, or chemistry classes. As often observed, unlike the laws of nature or society, which describe natural or social phenomena, legal norms prescribe our conduct and make our future predictable.

Unlike other norms of behavior, legal norms are perhaps more difficult to understand. On one hand, they are expected to enable an ideal of legitimate social order, and on the other hand, they are supposed to be dynamic and reflect social changes. For example, the American ideal of legitimate social order requires a legal system that reduces the impact of human whims in the government to a minimum. At the same time, that ideal also requires a legal system which is acceptable to all, and thus able to change.
In other words, within the U.S. legal system, legal norms exist only to the extent they ensure the American ideal of social order and stability. This ideal mirrors the socio-political needs of each historical period, as well as its sense of justice and moral standards. Concrete norms, which cannot play that role, are changed, amended, or replaced with others more suited to promote the society’s new ideal.

For example, until late into the 19th century, almost a century after the American colonies liberated themselves from the English yoke, there were quite a few American states, including Delaware and Kentucky, which held human beings as property, as slaves. American law contained complex property rules, which held the slave as the “absolute property of his owner.” At the federal level the institution of slavery was used to allot more Congressional representation to the states that recognized it.

Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution implicitly sanctioned the institution-although never by name: it counted slaves as three fifths taxable citizens. Because a state which recognized slavery had more representatives in Congress than a state that had the same number of voters but no slaves, it can be argued that the Constitution protected and certainly did not discourage slavery.

The English legal system never recognized the institution of slavery. In fact, “A slave or negro, the instant he lands in England, becomes a freeman; that is, the law will protect him in his enjoyment of his person, and his property,” Blackstone wrote in 1765. But the American colonies embraced the legal concept and its concrete manifestation: human beings held in slavery.

Eventually the American legal system abolished this institution, while never questioning the role of private property. The American legal system proved its resilience and dynamic nature. Slavery was limited to body of legal norms which needed to be changed because they became dissonant within the larger American democratic ideal of social order. It can be concluded that abolishing those rules when they had been perceived as violating the core social values that define the social ideal of order, saved the American ideal of the “rule of law.”

This dynamic feature of the American legal system is necessary to be clearly understood when you engage in legal research. No legal research task is ever finished without making sure that your results are still binding as “good law” at the moment of your search. In legal research this process is called, updating your results. This step separates an incomplete legal research job from a correct one. Using this wiki you will learn to what extent you can perform a correct legal research job on line, using free-of-charge databases, and to what extent, that is almost impossible.