Category: Sources of law

What does “national law” mean in the United States? Is it the same as federal law?

In the United States, national law and federal law are the same thing.  National laws are enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States. Because of  federalism, power is divided in the United States between the national government based in Washington, D.C. and state governments.  Both the state and national governments have the power to pass laws.  For example, New York State can pass a law that criminalizes certain types of conduct,  such as robbery, and the United States federal government can pass laws that would criminalize certain types of conduct, such as smuggling illegal goods into the country.  Here is a video on federalism:     Recognizing Federal and State Laws There are some ways to recognize federal and state laws. First, federal laws typically have a recognizable  popular name and a citation.  Popular name just means the name politicians give the law so people can recognize it.  For example, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But citation tells you where the law was published and that will always inform you whether the law is a federal law or not.  Federal laws are published in the United States Code, abbreviated as USC. For example, let’s say you see a  law cited as: 18 USC § 2113 This tells you that the law is a federal law because it is in...

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What are the major stages of passing a bill?

Stages of Passing a Bill How a Bill becomes a Law Step 1: Introduce the Bill A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives will introduce a draft version of the Bill. Step 2: Committee Review A committee will review the draft bill and edit it. Step 3: Floor Debate Depending on whether the bill was first introduced in the Senate or the House, that chamber will debate and vote on the bill.  If the bill fails, then the bill will die.  If that chamber passes the bill (e.g., House of Representatives) the other chamber (e.g., Senate) will then review, edit, and vote on the proposed law. Step 4: Reconciling the Act Once the bill passes one chamber of Congress it is known as an Act.  The other chamber must also vote on the Act.  But it is possible that the other chamber will modify the Act.  This creates an issue because the Senate and the House of Representatives cannot send different versions of the Act to the President.  Instead, a committee from both chambers of Congress will edit the Act so both chambers can vote on the same version. Step 5: Sending the Act to the President If Congress passes the same version, the Act will be sent to the President.  If the President signs the Act it will become a law.  The President might veto the law, in...

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Sources of Law in the United States Part IV: Administrative Law

Administrative Law Watch the Video Statutes as a Source of Law Go to Statutes Case Law as a Source of Law Go to Case Law Constitution as a Source of Law Go to the Constitution Administrative Rules and Regulations and Administrative Decisions Both Congress and the President empower US government agencies to issue rules and these rules have the force of law.  In addition, administrative agencies issue decisions in certain types of cases that have the effect of...

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Sources of Law in the United States: Part III Case Law

Case Law Click for a video on case law Case Law: Binding and Nonbinding Precedent One aspect of US law that is different from the civil law system of other countries is the importance of case law. When a judge renders a decision that decision has the force of law. We call this type of law case law. Because judges create case law, case law is also called judge-made law.  To understand the importance of case law we need to understand precedent or stare decisis.  The principle of precedent is that cases with similar facts should have similar results.  When a judge decides a case with a particular set of facts, precedent tells us that subsequent judges should reach a similar decision. In the United States there are two types of precedent: binding and non-binding precedent.  When an appellate level court reaches a decision, it is binding precedent on lower courts in the same jurisdiction – – that is lower courts must follow that decision.  But decisions from one jurisdiction are not binding on courts in other jurisdictions. For example, if New York’s Court of Appeals, the highest level court in New York, creates caselaw, that case law will be binding precedent on other courts in New York.  New York’s decisions, though, are not binding on other states.   Can case law change?  Of course. First, appellate level courts will...

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Sources of Law in the United States Part II: Statutes

Sources of Law in the United States: Statutes Watch a video on statutes Statutes Typically when people think of laws they think of statutes: written laws enacted by legislatures.  Because of federalism,  more than one legislature enacts laws in the United States. Congress passes national laws and also each state passes state laws.  Federal statutes are codified in the United States Code.  Similarly, each state codifies its own statutes. Steps to Passing a Bill Statutes and the Constitution As a general rule, state statutes apply to anyone who lives within a state while federal statutes will apply nationally, to everyone living in the United States. But keep in mind that the Supremacy Clause establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the United States,  As a result, if there is a conflict between a statute and the Constitution, a court can nullify the statute by declaring it unconstitutional. Stages of Passing a Bill How a Bill becomes a Law Step 1: Introduce the Bill A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives will introduce a draft version of the Bill. Step 2: Committee Review A committee will review the draft bill and edit it. Step 3: Floor Debate Depending on whether the bill was first introduced in the Senate or the House, that chamber will debate and vote on the bill.  If the bill fails, then the bill...

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