What is the Difference between Mandate and Law?

As a citizen, we don’t always understand these nuances in legal terms, that why I created this article, to give you a clear idea of the differences between a mandate and a law.

Mandate are quickly implemented to face a specific situation, limited in time. A law is a long-term rule, voted by the elected representatives, and that often take more time to be created. Both are enforceable by the police, but they respond to different situations.

That’s it for the short answer, we’ll now see in detail how each of them are created and implemented, before comparing mandate and law point-per-point.

A Mandate


A mandate is defined as “the authority given to an elected group of people, such as a government, to perform an action or govern a country” (Cambridge Dictionary).

How Mandates Are Implemented

There are a few factors that need to be in place before a mandate can be put into place.

First, mandates need to be issued by a government agency or an elected official, like a governor. Secondly, they will often need a reason to introduce the mandate. I can use the recent mask mandate as an example.

In this case, the health officials issued an order saying that, because of the health emergency, people needed to wear masks in certain situations. This was given authority because of the state of emergency declarations. Once these declarations are removed, the mandate will be revoked.

Mandates are often used to deal with emergency situations. They are known for being very fast to implement.  This makes them the perfect way to address rapidly changing situations.

You should also read: What is the Difference between Rule and Policy?

Mandates are Legally Enforceable

While they might not be laws, a mandate is still legally enforceable. In fact, they will often have the same effect as bills that have passed into law. Additionally, mandates can be as widespread. Returning to the example, the mask mandate puts restrictions on individuals. Some rules will affect business owners.

The laws can be enforced by the police force. Often, this will be done through a fine. However, it can also involve prison time. How the mandate will be enforced will depend on the circumstances and the amount of power that has been granted to the government agency.

Limits of Mandates

There are a few downsides that come with using mandates. Namely, they don’t carry the same power as a law. There are a few conditions in which a mandate can be deemed invalid. These will be when:

  1. They fall outside the government’s agency under the legislation. The law will state clearly what things the agencies can and can’t make laws about. For example, the health department can make decisions about a pandemic. But a terrorist attack will be outside of their purview.
  2. The mandate can’t overrule any existing state or federal laws. These laws can also be changed by a legislature.
  3. The mandate can’t override the Constitution. All laws and mandates will need to follow the rules established in the Constitution.

There are a few ways that a mandate can be overturned. First, it can go to the Supreme Court. This will often mean arguing that the mandate was invalid. Alternatively, a law can be passed to limit the power of the government agency. Once a mandate has been overturned, it can’t be enforced.

A Law

Definition of a Law

Law is defined as “The law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships.Collins English Dictionary.

Enacting a Law

A law will need to be implemented by elected officials. This is true of all levels of democratic government. This can be a long process.

First, a bill will need to be drafted. It won’t be able to overrule the constitution. Also, lawmakers will need to consider how it affects existing laws. They will also need to think about the terms used. If it is too ambiguous, the courts won’t know how to apply it. Because of this, potential criminals could get off without any penalties.

Once the bill has been drafted, it will be debated. This can allow them to point out potential flaws in the bill and try to change the way that it is worded.

After this process, there will be a vote. If the bill passes with a majority, it will move ahead. If not, it’s rejected and will need to be re-worked.

To pass a federal law, it will need to pass with a majority through both the House and the Senate. Then, it will go to the President. They will then decide whether or not to approve it. But just because it is rejected by the President, doesn’t mean that the bill is dead. It can still be passed into law if it gets a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate.

Enforcing a Law

Once the bill has gone through the rigorous process of being debated and approved, it will be a law. After this, it will need to be enforced. This is often done through the police force.

They will also be able to use the court systems. The law will set out the penalties for breaking the rules.

Removing a Law

Laws aren’t permeant. They can be changed or repealed altogether. This is done through a majority vote. Sometimes, they will be old and no longer relevant. In this case, lawmakers can get rid of them without any consequences.

However, this won’t always be the case. In this case, they will need to come up with something to replace it. Often, this will turn into a highly contentious political matter. Because of this, very few laws will be repealed.

The Difference Between Mandate and Law

Though there are lots of things that they have in common, there are a few key differences between a law and a mandate.

How Long it Takes to be Implemented

One of the biggest differences is how long it takes to put it into place. Laws, as I mentioned, take a very long time to put into place. Just the drafting process can take several weeks. The debate process will take a few more. An urgent bill can be passed within a single day if there is a consensus.

But if it is more contentious, the process will take a lot longer.  One of the longest wait times in history was 712 days.

On the other hand, a mandate has been designed to be more flexible. The goal is to give power to authorities to respond to rapidly evolving situations, like natural disasters. As a result, it’s a lot faster to draft and execute. Often, they will be able to get it done within a day.

Who Implements it

The next significant difference is who is responsible for implementing it. Mandates can be implemented by one person or one authority. Often, this will be a unilateral decision. For example, the President doesn’t need to check with Congress before signing an executive order.

On the other hand, laws are the process of bills. These will need to be voted into effect by elected representatives.  This is designed to give the average citizen some input into the types of laws that are being made.

How Long it Stays in Place

Another important element to consider is how long it will stay in place. Mandates are designed to be used for a finite period. Once the natural disaster or state of emergency is over, the mandate is removed.

On the other hand, laws are designed to be permanent. They don’t expire. The only way to get rid of them is with a majority vote. Then, they will need to be repealed with something that addresses the issues. This will take a long time.

Comparison Table

This comparison table should tell you at a glance the difference between mandates and laws.

Who creates it?Officials and department headsElected representatives
How long does it last?Removed once the emergency is overStays in place until it’s replaced by another law.
How long to implement itCan be created quickly. Often within hours or days.In emergencies, it can be created within days. Often, though, it will take several weeks for a law to be passed.
Is it enforceable by the police?YesYes

You should also read: What’s The Difference Between a Rule and a Guideline?

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