Last week, the United States Department of Justice took the unprecedented step of charging a former U.S. president with federal crimes.
While some condemned the June 8 indictment of Donald Trump as a violation of the rule of law, others hailed it as a necessary vindication of the rule of law principle that no one is above the law.
A 2021 World Justice Project survey indicated that an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans believe the president must obey the law and the courts. However, less than a quarter of Americans believe that in practice a high-ranking government officials would be held accountable for breaking the law, a 60% decline from 2014.
As people debate whether the Trump indictment is an indicator of a country with a strong or weak rule of law, we should understand what the rule of law means.
The rule of law is a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers accountability for the government and private actors alike, just law that is applied evenly, open government, and accessible and impartial justice.
We can look to the data to see whether the United States is a leader in the rule of the law globally. The 2022 WJP Rule of Law Index shows a 4 percent decline in the U.S. rule of law score between 2016 and 2022, though the country was among the top 5 improvers in rule of law from 2021-2022.
In his brief remarks about the indictment, Jack Smith, the special counsel assigned to oversee the investigation highlighted the United States’ commitment to the rule of law and encouraged people to read the indictment for themselves.
“We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone,” Smith said.
An effective criminal justice system is a key aspect of the rule of law. The U.S. ranks 30 out of 140 countries and jurisdictions on the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
Like any and every defendant, Donald Trump is presumed innocent, and he will have the opportunity to defend himself against these charges.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on rule of law issues.