Law is the rules that govern people’s lives and their property. It includes the laws of the government that establish the rights of citizens and the punishments they must face if they violate those rules.
A legal right is a norm that has the form (Section 3), function (Section 4), and moral justification of a “right.” This article provides an introduction to the concept of rights, its origins in general jurisprudence, and its various applications and meanings.
Legal Norms and Rights
There is a surprisingly large variety of legal norms exhibiting Hohfeldian forms, many of which are referred to as “rights” or claim-rights. These include, for example, an immunity from inheriting property rights on the grounds of one’s gender; a claim-right against being persecuted by state authorities; or, to die of starvation.
Moreover, in some instances, a claim-right can give rise to correlative duties, namely, obligations against those who would otherwise have a reason to exclude the right-holder’s claims. Alternatively, a claim-right can be the basis for other kinds of legal insolations against interference with a right-holder’s ph-ing, such as the right to have an attorney represent her interests in criminal proceedings or the right to a fair trial by jury.
This conception of “right” has flowed from a tradition of legal positivism, but is also compatible with other jurisprudential traditions. Nevertheless, there is much debate over what exactly “rights” are and how they should be justified.