Statutory Law

Fundamentals of Procedural Law

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.


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Statutory Law

Statutes result from legislative action.  The exact process of a bill being proposed and enacted into law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the results are very similar.  Most statutes are organized by subject after passage by the legislature, resulting in a legal code. For this reason, statutory law is often referred to as code law.  The Code for the United States is aptly named the United States Code (Abbreviated and cited as U.S.C.). Codes represent all of the laws passed by Congress and the legislatures of the various states.  Specific subject areas within the code are referred to as that subject plus the word code. For example, the section of the code that deals with crimes is often referred to as the criminal code.

A primary difference between statutes and case law is that statutes are more generic; they were not designed to answer a specific legal question raised in an actual legal dispute.  At the federal level, the United States Congress makes laws. Terms of Congress last for two years, and each term is given a number. For example, the 113th Congress of the United States ended its term in January of 2015.  The congress is composed of two houses, the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. So the 113th Congress was established by elections to those two houses in 2012. A major purpose of each successive Congress is to pass new legislation.

All federal statutes begin as a proposal, known as a bill.  The bill is introduced in either the House or the Senate and is quickly assigned a number.  The number is preceded by H.R. if it was introduced in the House, and S if it was introduced in the Senate.  The Bill will retain this number throughout the legislative process. These numbers are vital to the researcher concerned with the legislative history of a statute.  The legislative history of a statute refers to the proceedings it went through before becoming law.

An important aspect of the legislative process is the work of committees.  Both the Senate and the House have a number of committees that work on legislation concerning specific issues.  Once a bill is introduced in either house, it goes before the committee that considers the bill’s subject matter.  If the bill receives favorable treatment by its committee, it will be put to the full Senate or House for a vote. If the bill receives a majority vote in either house, it is then sent to the other house for consideration.  

Once the bill is approved by both houses, it is then sent to the President for approval.  The President will then either approve or veto the bill. The President can also choose to ignore the bill, but as a matter of law, the bill is considered approved after ten days.  If the president decides to veto the bill, it can only be enacted into law by a two-thirds majority vote from both houses of Congress. If the president approves the law by signing it, it becomes law at a particular time stated in the bill.

Modification History

File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  08/04/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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