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Forgot I Could Change The Rules
King Jaffe Joffer: Who am I to change things?
I thought you were the king.
Bob has near absolute authority in his land, but an existing law will hurt him or someone he loves. Often this law forces an Arranged Marriage
, other times it can be a minor crime treated with a draconian punishment
, or it might be something else.
Bob agonizes about how helpless he is to change this law, until he remembers, or is reminded, that he does
have the authority to change the law.
Now this might come across as What an Idiot
for Bob, but Bob was raised to respect tradition. So actually using his authority this way didn't occur to him until just then. Especially when it is a normally good rule that works out badly in this case; this is a traditional reason for the existence of pardons.
Now in reality, some rules were out of the reach of all but the most absolute monarchs. Rules that could have been changed would also be met with resistance unless the ruler was strong willed enough to enact these changes. Sometimes fiction will deal with these difficulties as well, but not always.
Contrast Screw the Rules, I Make Them!
(Bob can enforce, and even change, the rules; he just chooses to ignore following them himself).
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Anime and Manga
- Princess Knight: Sapphire's father realizes this at about the two-thirds point in the anime. Just as he's about to release a proclamation that would allow women to rule Silverland, he is by apparently complete coincidence kidnapped by the baddies, who have gotten tired of waiting for Sapphire to slip up and reveal she's actually a girl.
Film — Animated
- The Sultan at the end of Aladdin, in regards to the "princess must only marry a prince" law. He's freaking out at the beginning because there's only three days until the deadline and Jasmine hasn't chosen anyone, but by the end he sees she's chosen Aladdin, who has proven himself to be worthy but instead is a poor thief.
Sultan: "It's that law that's the problem... well, am I Sultan or am I Sultan? I decree, from this day forward, the princess may marry whomever she deems worthy!"
Film — Live Action
- Coming to America
- Averted in RoboCop when the vice president of OCP takes the president hostage. Robocop cannot intervene against an OCP employee. Instead of changing Robo's directive, the president just fires the VP, making him fair game.
- Inverted at The Once And Future King, where King Arthur chooses not to change the law about burning adulterous wives after Guinevere's affair with Lancelot is revealed. He is not (particularly) jealous of them. He loves Guinevere, he loves Lancelot, he is the king and the law is barbarous, but no, he will not change it, he will keep it for some vague noble reason (specifically, that no-one should be above the law).
- Also, he pretty much ignores the two of them until he can no longer pretend to be ignorant of the affair, and allows the two to flee. He's very much a tragic figure, though, as he does have to persecute them. His character arc of the last book or two has been realizing that the law needs to apply to everyone.
- He also is too Lawful Stupid to Take A Third Option and just pardon them. Plus, he could still change the law and keep the "no-one should be above the law" as long as he has the new law apply to everyone. Like for instance make adultery only punished if the spouse demands it.
- The Bible: Averted in the Book Of Esther, the king is maneuvered into creating a law that would allow all the Jews to massacred by Haman. When Queen Esther reveals that she is Jewish herself and exposes Haman to the king, the law authorizing pogrom cannot be annulled by even the king. However, there is nothing that prevents him from passing a new law enabling the Jewish population to defend themselves with state support.
- A similar aversion occurs in the Book of Daniel. The king is tricked into decreeing the death of his favorite advisor, and cannot annul it to save his life. Luckily, God keeps the lions from eating Daniel, and the king passes a new law that next day to kill his treacherous advisors and allow for worship of Yahweh.
- Played with in Incarnations of Immortality. In the first novel, it isn't so much that Death forgot that he could change the rules; it's that he didn't know that he could (in fact, he didn't even know half of them), causing infant souls born under questionable circumstances to go to Purgatory and later triggering an end to all death worldwide because he refused to take one soul. At the end of the book, he realizes that it's his prerogative to do what he damn well pleases as the Incarnation of Death, and that all of Satan's rulesmongering didn't mean a damn thing. He also changes the rules regarding infant souls, sending one to heaven instead of Purgatory in the end. The last is retconned in later books, as Death is acting outside of his authority.
- In Breaking Dawn, Jacob has to submit to the will of Sam, the Alpha Wolf. When Sam orders him to help destroy the Cullens (and Bella), he remembers that he was born to be the Alpha but he had voluntarily given up the birthright. Choosing to become the Alpha frees Jacob from obeying Sam's orders.
- In The Fangs Of Kaath, Prince Raschid briefly ponders at all the grand reforms he could do arbitrarily if he were Shah, but ruefully reminds himself that he would be assassinated within a day by the nobility and/or bureaucracy if he tried.
- Iolanthe: A comedic version of this occurs. The Chancellor wants to marry Phyllis, who is his ward.
Lord Chancellor: Victory! Victory! Success has crowned my efforts, and I may consider myself engaged to Phyllis! At first I wouldn't hear of it — it was out of the question. But I took heart. I pointed out to myself that I was no stranger to myself; that, in point of fact, I had been personally acquainted with myself for some years. This had its effect. I admitted that I had watched my professional advancement with considerable interest, and I handsomely added that I yielded to no one in admiration for my private and professional virtues. This was a great point gained. I then endeavoured to work upon my feelings. Conceive my joy when I distinctly perceived a tear glistening in my own eye! Eventually, after a severe struggle with myself, I reluctantly - most reluctantly - consented.
- A song or so later, Iolanthe's life stands forfeit for breaking her vow not to reveal herself to the Lord Chancellor, and so do the rest of the fairies' — all save the Queen — for marrying mortals just as Iolanthe did. It takes the Lord Chancellor's brilliant legal mind to save the day by changing the fairy law to mandate death for any fairy who don't marry a mortal. Hasty marriage for the Queen, and everyone goes home happy.
- Happens often with regard to United States law and Congressional procedures, particularly in cases where the so-called "rule" is not part of the Constitution but was established by acts of Congress or tradition. For example:
- When George Washington served two terms as President, there was nothing in the Constitution holding any of his successors to that term limit, nor was any amendment added nor proposed in the 19th century. By the early 20th century, when a still young, still popular Teddy Roosevelt's second term expired, the Republicans nominated Taft, and Roosevelt accepted the choice. Four years later, Roosevelt remembered he could run for a third term as an independent if he wanted, and he did, beating out incumbent Taft in both popular and electoral votes and finishing second - the best showing for a third party candidate in the 20th century. Sixteen years later in 1940, his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats remembered that was perfectly legal, and FDR was both nominated for and won a third term and later a fourth.
- Numerous examples of bills proposed and passed on a bipartisan basis by the Senate. A recent example is the McCain-Feingold Act regarding campaign financing. The Supreme Court struck it down in the controversial Citizens United decision, which declared corporations to be people and money to be speech. To counter it, a Constitutional amendment would have had to have passed. At the time, McCain and Feingold were both sitting Senators. Guess which body of the government gets to propose new Constitutional amendments?
- In 1911, the Apportionment Act of 1911 capped the size of the House of Representatives at 435 members. For much of the last 100 years, both parties and large to mid-sized states with majorities of both parties (a majority of the House of Representatives) have bemoaned the decreased representation for larger states in both Congress and the electoral college. Fortunately for them, an act of Congress can be amended or rewritten... by Congress.
- The 14th Amendment specifically indicates any state which disenfranchises its voters will have its Congressional representation reduced. Since its passage in 1868, this provision has never been exercised by the Congress - not in the modern era of voter ID laws, not after the 2000 Florida debacle, not during the era of Democratic political bosses, not even during the grossly restrictive era of Jim Crow laws.
- Under the initial Senate rules, filibuster was not possible, because the Senate could always vote to move on. In 1806, because this provision had been used once, the Senate eliminated it, and in 1837, the first Senate filibuster happened and, filibusters were used often throughout the 19th century. It wasn't until 1917, under the urging of President Wilson, that the Senate remembered it could change the rules to allow for a two-thirds majority vote of cloture. After this system, too, was abused in the 1950s and '60s, the Senate changed the rules yet again - in 1975! - to reduce that number to three-fifths. In the 40 years since, particularly in the last 20 years, filibusters have become more common and irritating to the process (to the point that nowadays, nothing is even called for a vote in the Senate unless it is known there are sixty votes for it), and yet the rules of the Senate remain unchanged.