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U.S. Government Legal Information: Statutory Law & Legal Citations

Quick Guide to Statutory Law

This is a quick guide to federal statutory law, focusing on current information.

For detailed information on the lawmaking process, including historical materials, see the guide: U.S. Congressional Publications & Legislative Process.

Index

The Word "Title"

The subjects in the U.S. Code are called "Titles" and are approximately the same as the titles in the Code of Federal Regulations.

The word "Title" has different meanings in different sources of law.

Title of an Act: National Firearms Act

Sources call this Name and do not use the word title.

Title is a section of a law: Title 9 of the Education Amendments of 1972

Title is a subject arrangement in a code

What is Statutory Law?

The U.S. Capitol Building

There are three types of law which prevail at the federal, state, and local levels of government in the United States:

  • Statutory Law (or session laws)
  • Judicial (or Case law)
  • Regulations (or Administrative Law)

Statutory law consists of the acts of legislatures.

Statutory law is published in several forms and by different publishers. If federal statutes need to be cited in court, use the official edition published by the Government Printing Office.

Bills

H.R.6536 - No School Bus Drivers with DUIs Act of 2016, 114th Congress (2015-2016), 2d session. (congress.gov)

Bills, resolutions, etc., are the forms in which legislation is proposed.

Slip Laws / Public Laws

When a bill is passed into law, it is "enacted." A law is first published as a slip or pamphlet. The law is identified with a PL (Public Law) numbers. The Public Law number consists of the Congress number and a sequential number assigned chronologically.

The law is also identified with a Stat (Statutes at Large) numbers. The Stat number is the number the law will have when it is reprinted in the Statutes at Large.

Public Law No: 115-45. Wounded Officers Recovery Act of 2017 (115th Congress, 45th law passed).

131 STAT. 956 (Vol. 131 of Statutes at Large beginning on page 956)


Statutes at Large

82 Stat.1213 - Gun Control Act of 1968  PL 90-618 (HeinOnline)

The United States Statutes at Large is the collection of all laws and resolutions (public and private) enacted during each session of Congress, in chronological order. Also called session laws. Pages are identified with both PL (Public Law) and Stat (Statutes at Large) numbers.

Note:

It takes a very long time to consolidate Statutes into volumes (7-8 years). For more current laws, see Public Laws and USCCAN supplements.

Legal Citations to Statutes

The legal citation for a statutory law can be to the the Public Law / Statute version or to the codified version of the law.

A Public law citation has the abbreviation P.L. (or Pub. L.), the Congress number, and the law number.

A Statutes at Large citation has the abbreviation Stat, the volume number, and the beginnning page.

 

 

Codes

18 USC 921 (Title 18 CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, Chapter 44 Firearms, section 921 Definitions) govinfo

The Code is a subject arrangement (codification) of all the public laws currently in force. It includes all the laws of a general or permanent nature but does not include Private Laws. The subjects are called "Titles" and are approximately the same as the titles in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Legal Citations to Codes

The legal citation for a statutory law can be to the the Public Law / Statute version or to the codified version of the law.

 

Subject Librarian

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John Stevenson
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Parallel Codication of Legislation and Regulations

Illustration of the publishing process of statutes and regulations. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!