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"Well, when the President does it that means that it is not illegal."
Richard Nixon, 1977 interview with David Frost

Just as some think they are above the law because they can buy their way out of it, some think they are above the law because they enforce and/or make the laws. Through influence, political power, being in office, or sheer force, they believe that the law does not apply to them, or will allow them to do as they please. This is especially done by or in reference to the kinds of things that the laws are intended to protect against - corrupt policemen, politicians, gang leaders and the like.

Often expressed by the comment, "I am the (insert governing body here)!" (but saying it is not enough, there has to be some authority the character has). Probably inspired by "L'Etat, c'est moi" (I am the State.) from Louis XIV (although he may not have actually said it).

To count as this trope, it needs to meet these points:

  • Bob is charged with enforcing the rules.
  • Bob does things not even he is allowed to do, because he now feels he is above the rules.

What this is not:

  • Abuse of authority that one actually has.
  • Being granted permission to be above rules most other people must follow.

Screw the Rules, I Have Connections is when a friend or relative takes advantage of people who follow this trope.

Compare, of course, Screw the Rules, I Have Money, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, Loophole Abuse. Railroading, when done in defiance of the rules as written, qualifies too.

Contrast Forgot I Could Change the Rules (someone is empowered to change the rules, but forgets that power at first).


Examples

Anime & Manga

  • Maximillion Pegasus of Yu-Gi-Oh! is an interesting example. He doesn't technically break the rules (nowhere in the rule book does it forbid using an enchanted piece of Egyptian bling to read your opponent's mind), but he certainly abuses his position as creator of Duel Monsters, stacking his deck with rare and dangerous cards, several of which were never released to the public because Pegasus himself felt they were too powerful for general circulation. Given that he constantly calls people like Keith on their own cheating, it's pretty hypocritical.
    • Filler Villain Noah Kaiba does the same thing. As the ruler of the Virtual World, Noah is able to enforce all of his Deck Master rules, frequently calling out his henchmen, The Big 5, when they either a) cheat in duels or b) attempt to leave the Virtual World without having first won a duel. Yet during his matches against Kaiba and Yugi/Yami, Noah cheats repeatedly, using Kaiba's brother as a shield against his attacks, and making up new rules for his Deck Master every ten seconds. When he's actually beaten by Yami, he steals Mokuba's body despite not having won a duel, and tries to escape into the real world, something he himself forbid The Big 5 from doing.
  • In G Gundam, whichever nation is hosting the Gundam Fight (namely, the winner of the previous fight) has the right to change the Official Regulations as they see fit. Neo-Hong Kong's prime minister Wong Yunfat takes advantage of this to a ludicrous degree, first rescinding the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule and then setting Domon up in matches specifically with the intent of killing him. One fight has Domon contend with a comically large electromagnet that pins his Gundam to the ground, and another has him forced to fight an ally in a cage match where the ring is full of time bombs that will kill them both unless they fight for real.


Comic Books

  • Both Presidents from Transmetropolitan have said that "If the President does it, it's not a crime" to justify their actions. While The Beast was being somewhat ironic, his successor was apparently dead serious. This was a reference to a certain President Richard Nixon, who famously said something similar.
  • Averted by Judge Dredd, despite his catchphrase of "I am the law", which would usually be a dead give away. He is ruthlessly strict about adhering to the laws of Megacity One, and the conflicts this sometimes cause with his sense of justice have provided some of the series' richest Character Development. In Dredd's case, this catchphrase refers to his absolute authority to punish violations of the law as he sees fit, not to making his own laws. On the contrary, in one storyline where he is authorized to make law on the spot to achieve the government's goals, he's very uncomfortable about it. The idea of the law being consistent and not playing favorites is very import to him, after all.
  • The Roarke family from Sin City: a Catholic cardinal, a senator, and a surgeon general. They're considered the most powerful family in the city... and possibly the country.


Film -- Animated

 Ramses: I am Egypt. The evening and the morning star. If I say day is night, it will be so.

  • In Aladdin, the Sultan spends most of the movie fretting over the law that says his daughter must be married to a prince before her next birthday, especially when she hates every suitor that comes for her hand. At the end of the film, seeing how much Aladdin and Jasmine love each other makes him get over being such a milquetoast and just change the law so she can marry whoever she wants.


Film -- Live Action

 Aunty Entity: You think I don't know the law? Wasn't it me who wrote it?"

  • Councillor Dupont from Equilibrium, the former leader "Father" died and Dupont has been pretending to be him ever since and just started making up any old laws he pleased. He's also a "sense offender", breaking one of the major laws their society was built upon, one he enforces as severely as possible putting people to death without trial while ignoring it himself.
  • As Denzel Washington's character in Training Day put it, "I am the police! King Kong ain't got shit on me!"
  • Bruce Willis' general character in The Siege plays it straight, bellowing "I AM the law! Right here, right now, I am the law!" at Denzel Washington when he tries to arrest him for murder, which was not covered under the martial law he had been tasked with.
  • The entire point of Lakeview Terrace is that the deranged neighbor that cruelly harasses the protagonists is a cop, and the other cops are more likely to back him up in a "my word against his" situation.
  • Famously uttered by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. Mace Windu confronts Chancellor Palpatine in his office in order to arrest him for being a Sith Lord and tells him that the Senate will decide his fate, to which Palpatine replies, "I AM THE SENATE.", in a low and intimidating voice. Palpatine now revealed as Darth Sidious kills 3 of the Jedi's best swordsmen (under Yoda, Anakin, Windu and Obi-Wan of course, but still celebrated swordsmen) in mere seconds and is climatically "defeated" by Windu in time for Anakin to arrive and "save" him. Darth Vader is born and Palpatine's plan to kill the Jedi is validated by the Senate under the pretense that the Jedi tried to assassinate him.

 Darth Sidious: I will make it legal.

    • Ironically, the Jedi, or at least Mace Windu, engaged in this as well in Revenge of the Sith by confronting him in his office and arresting him (made worse in the novelization as Palpatine explicitly makes clear that arresting him for his adhering to the Sith religion was illegal under the Republic's laws regarding freedom of religion), not to mention Mace Windu deciding to kill Palpatine on the spot afterward despite Anakin making explicit that such was against the Jedi Code.
  • Given the name of the movie, it should come as no surprise that Steven Seagal's debut film, Above the Law, is about government officials with this exact mindset. The beginning shows the past of Seagal's character (which looks very similar to Seagal's own past at some points...), which culminates in a scene in Vietnam where high-ranking officials torture a POW far more than the Geneva Convention could possibly allow. The movie then shifts to the main plot, a tale about top dogs in the CIA smuggling drugs and plotting to assassinate a Senator just to make sure their operations in Central America go just as planned.
  • A sweeter-natured one came about in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. After the prince has refused his Arranged Marriage, gone to America to seek a bride, and endured all sorts of comedic trials to win her, his parents are left scratching their heads. She's a nice girl and all, but she's American and definitely not royalty. As the king is pointing this out, the queen invokes this trope. Cut to the massive royal wedding of the prince and his American bride!
  • The main character in Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans. You'd be amazed at what one dope fiend can get away with just by flashing a badge.

Literature

  • This is more or less the whole point of The Illuminati in Duumvirate.
  • Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. When a student calls her out for violating her own arbitrary rules, she simply gives the student detention - which in her case involves Cold-Blooded Torture.
    • And similarly, Commissioner Fudge with his "Laws can be changed!" when he clearly is circumventing the legal lawmaking process.
      • Which was actually hilarious, because the invoked law was necessary self-defense. So Fudge meant that he could change the law so that when you're attacked in Muggle territory, it would be illegal to defend yourself!
        • That was largely the film's rendition. In the actual book, the invoked law instead related to expelling Hogwarts students and confiscating wands, which, while still not good, was a bit less extreme than what Fudge advocated in the film.
    • Arthur Weasley could also be this as he enchanted a car because of loophole in the law he made himself.
  • In Brave New World World Controller Mustopha Mond, responding to Bernard's shock that he owns banned books, explains that "As I make the rules, I can also break them. With impunity, Mr. Marx, which I'm afraid you cannot do."
  • Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld novels, can say this, although he prefers not to. Anyway, he has established legal precedent going thousands of years on his side, namely "Ergo sic dico."

 Vetinari: The law must be obeyed, Miss Dearheart. Even tyrants have to obey the law. [[[Beat]]] No, I tell a lie, tyrants do not have to obey the law, obviously, but they do have to observe the niceties. At least, I do.

    • Subverted (most of the time) by Sam Vimes, because he knows where breaking the rules it would sometimes be convenient to break would lead. He's seen people go there. He's not going.
  • Subverted hard in the Corean Chronicles. When Mykel's wastrel brother Venicet shows up in Tempre and expects to be given a cushy court position just because he's the brother of the newly declared Lord Protector, Mykel flat out tells him that he couldn't provide his brother with a steady income unless he was willing to take a steady job, as this was the rule he had laid down for everyone else, and as ruler he couldn't decree one thing and do something else. Then he gave his brother what pocket change he had on him and showed him the door.
  • A twist in The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff: Queen Katherine insists that the law says captured rebels must be executed, and therefore she cannot pardon them. It's her wiser advisors, realizing that the circumstances of the rebellion mean mercy would be the better ploy, who tell her, "The law of the land is the Queen"—setting a very bad precedent, but executing these rebels would cause major and possibly worse problems.
  • A more benign version occurs in the fifth Safehold book, How Firm a Foundation. Empress Sharleyan has arrived in Corisande to pronounce sentencing on the traitors of the Northern Conspiracy. However, while the law is clear on their guilt and their punishment, Sharleyan uses her royal perogative to pardon those where blackmailed, threatened, duped, or just too angry or foolish to realize what they were getting into.
  • The ghost-written Foster novelization for Star Wars had Vader trying to stop Tarkin from using the Death Star on Alderaan, largely because he was doing it without the Emperor's explicit authorization, suggesting they at least consult with the Emperor first. Tarkin in response said he was given a free hand in the operation and as such had no real need to follow that rule.

Live Action TV

  • "The Bank Shot Job" in the first season of Leverage centers around a corrupt small town judge who totally believes this trope will save him. It doesn't.
  • At the end of the Doctor Who episode The Waters of Mars, the Doctor (who up until this point has refused to save some humans whose deaths are part of history) breaks down and realizes that since he is last of the Time Lords, this trope applies to him: "Do you know who that leaves? ME!! It's taken me all these years to realize it, but all those laws of time are mine. And they will obey ME!!! ". It...doesn't end very well. Next episode we learn that his entire race reached a similar conclusion, and that's why the Doctor had to wipe them out in the first place.
  • Gene Hunt's last line of the series.

 Sam: I should do you in for speeding! You're not above the law, you know!

Gene: What are you talking about, Tyler? I am the law!

  • Averted in Babylon 5 Atonement, when Delenn goes to her clan council to hear the verdict on her marriage even though she is the most powerful woman in Minbar. On the other hand she seemed to be willing to make Minbari policy practically by herself earlier. Perhaps the discrepancy can be Justified by saying the one was an unusual security crisis and the other was just a personal matter. Also these were her kin after all.
  • Law and Order SVU's characters do this sometimes. Elliot Stabler does this almost constantly. He regularly uses questionable or outright illegal interrogation techniques (Like threatening to break a suspect's neck,) uses his badge to try and get his daughter Kathleen out of trouble (At one point saying that her breaking into someone's house is a "harmless prank,") and generally fails to actually follow 90% of the rules that police officers are supposed to be following.
    • If it wasn't for his 97% closer rate, it is pretty clear he would have had the Turn in Your Badge speech a long time ago.
  • King Uther on Merlin in The Crystal Cave. He has magic banned, yet orders Gaius to use it to save Morgana.
  • Airwolf has this with Archangel giving a subordinate a lesson in Firm rules.

 Archangel: You tried to kill me!

Subordinate: I was Just Following The Rules. "If an agent becomes a threat to the Firm or the country, they are to be killed."

Archangel: Don't you DARE quote the rules to me! I WROTE THEM! You can bet there's going to be an amendment that clearly states that that rule DOES NOT APPLY TO ME!

 King Charles I: I am the king, I can do what I like!

Start up a war, or a big tax hike!

Got a French wife, she's a Catholic...

Roundheads: Oh Lord!

Really, King Charles, we're not quite sure...

Charles: Insolence! Is that how you talk to the crown?

I am the king, I'll just close parliament down!

Roundhead: I think you'll find that's in breach of due process.

Cavalier: Here's what we say to that: Pffft! Now, clear out this mess!

  • The reason why and how King Arthur marries Guinevere in Merlin. The fact that she's a servant girl in this version is only brought up a couple times, and poses virtually no obstacle for Arthur. He wants to marry this woman, so he does. No arguments.
  • Scotty gets a great one in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Relics. He and La Forge are attempting to repair a beat up old rustbucket of a ship and tells Geordi to shunt some fuel to an auxilliary tank, and he protests that the system specs say doing so will blow everything up. Scotty of course was the one who originally wrote the system specs and admits that "a good engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper" and that the procedure will work.


Professional Wrestling

  • I'M VINCE MCMAHON, DAMNIT!
    • The heel General Managers aren't much better...and usually once they screw the rules too much, they're in line for a firing or a major beatdown from the face wrestler they've likely been feuding with for the past few months.
    • There have been matches where the Heel was allowed to alter the stipulations of the match, during the match, as many times as they want.
    • A running theme in pro wrestling is the claim that no one, not even the owner, can override a referee's decision. This is countered by the fact that the owner or GM can change the rules of the match, even retroactively. So the referee's ruling of a disqualification, for example, isn't overridden, it's just that it no longer matters because it just retroactively became a no disqualification match.
  • In the WWE, when Paul Heyman was a general manager, his first act was to put one of the faces into a match. Then no less than 4 times during the match, he'd grab a microphone and say "I'm Sorry, I forgot because it's my first day. This match is actually..." and he'd add another stipulation to the match.
  • A particularly egregious example would be the match between Chris Jericho and William Regal at Backlash 2001. Because Regal challenged Jericho to a "Duchess Of Queensbury Rules" match, and Jericho accepted without knowing what that was, it turned out that Regal was allowed to change the rules whenever he was about to lose. Possibly the worst pro wrestling example of Calvin Ball ever.
  • For a long period in WCW, Raven was the holder of the US title. He held onto it mostly because he declared every match to be a "Raven's Rules" match because... Well it sounded cool. Typically, a champion doesn't have the option of just making up his own stipulations. "Raven's Rules" typically boiled down to "no disqualifications or count-outs, oh and all my buddies can stomp on your head for five minutes and then I'll pin you," but he was known to throw in extra variables on occasion.

Tabletop Games

  • The Solar Exalted of the Exalted setting were the rulers of the world in the First Age. As the Great Curse laid upon them by their vanquished foes, the Primordials (titans) started to corrupt them more and more, their rule became more and more tyrannical and cruel. Note that within his domain, a Solar had the right to set almost anything that doesn't threaten the rule of Solars in general as a law, which resulted in some pretty horrible places to live, as well as some pretty... bizarre laws and customs (a whole region in the North where people acted like they lived in a musical!).
  • The player characters have this role in Dogs in the Vineyard—as they are commanded to represent the word of the Book of Life, they basically interpret what it means and enforce it as they see fit. Usually with guns.
  • Paranoia makes a particular effort to encourage this attitude. Game Masters are encouraged (if the need arises) to roll the dice in plain view of all the players and deliberately ignore the results just to hammer the point home.
    • Happens a lot in universe too. Ultraviolet Clearance Clones are assumed to be not only above suspicion by the Computer, but also the people who program the Computer and tell it what to think.
  • Referred to as Rule Zero in most P&P RPGs: The DM makes the rules.
    • Although most RPGs encourage the DM to be consistent about the rules.
  • The Golden Rule of Magic: The Gathering is "Sometimes a card contradicts the rules; if this occurs, the card text takes precedence."


Theater

  • Creon makes this argument to Haemon in Sophocles' Antigone. Naturally it all ends in tears, what with him forgetting that the Gods are more important than kings.


Video Games

  • Privately-run servers in video games are very prone to this trope.
    • Even some of the retail servers allow game-masters and moderators to screw the rules of the game...whether this counts is a bit more debatable, as they're usually not used to win anything, just to moderate.
    • A part of MUDs, where the people making the rules would often screw them.
    • Servers of games where you are kicked from hacking by moderators and administrators who are hacking themselves.
  • Officer Tenpenny in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. Pulaski even more so.
  • In Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, Godot frequently dictates the rules as he sees fit ("It's one of my rules."), even though he's technically a rookie prosecutor and this is his first case. The Judge goes along with it, due to Refuge in Audacity.
    • A running theme in Ace Attorney Investigations. The Phantom Thief Yatagarasu deliberately goes after people who put themselves above the law through money or political power. This is usually businesses, but it extends quite easily to Cohdopian ambassadors.
    • Redd White in the original game is said to be in such a position and he does attempt to flex his influence to ensure he gets his way in court but it fails miserably (can't use your influence to stop someone from using solid evidence to show you're a heartless liar).
  • In Oblivion: The Shivering Isles, at one point a guard will tell you that "Only Lord Sheogorath is above the law here." Of course, when you become Sheogorath, they'll still fine you/send you to a dungeon. Typical.
  • Benevolent example in Breath of Fire II - a Wyndian with black wings is prophesied to bring about the ruin of their civilization, so all children born with black wings are put to death. When the king's daughter was born so, he vetoed this, imprisoning the one person who knew the secret and sending the child to be raised in a faraway town. Nina has strong black magic, but remains completely benign and a whole-hearted party member throughout the game.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater has Colonel Volgin. His response to Ocelot after he killed Granin in a torture session speaks for itself.
    • As far as chain of command goes a Colonel does have command authority over a Major so he was the one calling the shots over that operation. His argument does kind of fall apart when you consider that he is a villain who just got through killing a brilliant scientist who created Metal Gear, the titular mecha of the series, when he had no solid evidence that he was a spy and tortured him to death on a whim (to say little about how he was so sadistic he pointlessly killed said scientist before the latter could even start talking). Not to mention wanting to start a war with the United States and toppling the current Russian Government, he may have been the one making the rules but those rules were still corrupt.
      • There's also the small fact of Volgin being an absolute psychopath, and that questioning his orders would be a good way to end up dead.

Webcomics


Western Animation

  • Stavros Garkos and his brother Spiro Garkos in Hurricanes.
  • Cad Bane in Star Wars the Clone Wars: "I'm in control. I make the rules now."
  • Batman almost always averts this in terms of the rules he sets for himself, but when he captured the Sewer King (who had been using children as slave labor), he said, "This time, I'm sorely tempted [to break my own rules]!" (referring of course to his one rule)
  • Subverted with Mr. Bone in Doug. When Doug and his friends got Saturday detention, Mr. Bone after catching Doug doodling Quail-Man snatches the drawing, with Doug then pointing out that Mr. Bone just broke the rule against snatching drawings. This causes Mr. Bone to have a complete breakdown from this realization, revealing he's so absolute with his rules even he feels obligated to follow them to the spirit and law despite making them.

Real Life

  • In real life, this trope is the reason why Constitutions exist. Basically, a Constitution is a set of rules that cannot be changed without an incredibly long and difficult process, even by the people in charge of making the rules.
  • Richard Nixon effectively said this in the interviews with David Frost (see the page quote).
    • To be fair, that was in reference to the bombing of Cambodia, which was actually within his right to do as commander in chief.
  • During one sack of the city of Rome, a Gaul general named Brennus offered to ransom the city in return for a payment of gold by weight. When some of the Roman tribunes noticed that the Gaul-provided weights for determining the ransom were fixed and dared to tell him this, he responded by unsheathing his sword, throwing it upon the scale as well, and telling them (presumably through a translator) "Vae victis" or "Woe to the vanquished."
    • Vae victis was a common Roman battle-cry; whether the battle cry is taken from this incident or Brennus was making an Ironic Echo of the legions that had repeatedly attacked his people, it makes for a powerful story.
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