Many of us have probably heard of the expression a contract is a contract is a contract, haven’t we. It’s meant to reflect the seriousness that we associate with contracts. Perhaps more importantly, it’s meant to emphasize the binding nature of a contract. In other words, when contracts are made, people generally expect for them to be carried out. If not, serious legal consequences are usually expected.
However, contrary to this popular notion of a contract is a contract is a contract, in fact, contracts aren’t always contracts. Specifically, just because two people make a contract, whether it’s verbal or written, it doesn’t mean that its terms are legally binding. There are various factors that could in fact nullify the terms of any contract.
An extreme example
To take an extreme example, a provision could be made within a contract stipulating that, if one party fails to deliver its end of the bargain, the other party has the right to take the life of the failing party. No jurisdiction in its right mind would consider such criminal and heinous terms to be legal or contractually binding. Otherwise, we’d descend into a mobster culture, wouldn’t we.
Indeed, a hypothetical example isn’t needed to demonstrate just how a contract sometimes isn’t a contract. A real-life case study has found its way into the news.
Real-life case study
Specifically, a black man’s will was overturned because it was deemed by a judge to be racist. The man had neglected to provide for one of his daughters in his will because she had a white son. In the controversial ruling, the judge decided that the racist nature of the will’s contents deemed the will non-binding. In other words, a contract is not a contract is not a contract — not always.
The ruling was considered controversial because it calls into question the rights we have as individuals to conduct our affairs as we choose. As deplorable as it is, racism is not illegal. So, if a judge can overturn a will, or a contract, for racism, can another judge overturn another contract for reasons not explicitly stated in the law? No doubt the debate will continue.
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