Workers laying the foundation for the United Nations headquarters. Copyright held or managed by the New York Public Library

Strengthening the rule of law around the world should surely rank as an important priority for the incoming Biden Administration. To be fair, given the events of the past four years, the United States may seem an unlikely champion of the cause. Yet, the United States has a substantial legacy supporting the rule of law at home and abroad. …

History shows that broad popular support is a powerful driver of legal change

Photo: Sue Nilsson /

Recent weeks have exposed longstanding rule of law failures in America. That police violence against African Americans like George Floyd is systemic rather than anomalous can make prospects for change seem overwhelming. Yet, the historical lesson about how countries achieve improvements in the rule of law is clear. It is precisely out of these types of crises that significant legal transformation happens.

As Hemingway wrote of going broke, often significant rule of law change happens gradually, then suddenly. Working on rule of law reform internationally for 20…

From Washington, DC to Brasilia fecklessness and incompetence in public health go hand in hand with attacks on the rule of law

Writing in the 1980s, Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen famously observed that famine doesn’t occur in democracies. Because elected leaders needed to face voters and withstand public criticism, they had strong incentives to take measures to prevent mass starvation from occurring.

Months into the Covid-19 crisis, it is becoming apparent that Sen’s argument does not apply equally to a pandemic. Rule of law, not democracy alone, is needed for effective government responses to public health emergencies.


The immediate crisis is only symptomatic of chronic pathologies that have persisted for decades.

The grotesque killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last week was a startling illustration of the rule of law deficiencies in America. Violence and looting by certain protesters have been condemned as a breakdown in law and order. Make no mistake though: Long before recent events the rule of law was under siege in America.

While the Trump Administration bears responsibility for inflicting acute harms, less noticed is that for decades the US has been suffering chronic deficiencies in rule of law, maladies that…

Tom McInerney

International lawyer and Executive Director, Rule of Law for Development Program (PROLAW), Loyola Chicago Law

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