About Federal Law

What is all this stuff?  Where does it come from? 

During my explorations all over the Web while doing research for this site, I learned several things about Federal laws and regulations.

Federal laws seem to all be housed in the United States Code.  Also known as U.S. Code, or simply USC for short.  The U.S. Code is divided up into 50 'Titles'.  These Titles cover areas ranging from crimes and punishment, to Indian reservations, to the military and defense, to laws on banking and on and on.  Each Title seems to restrict itself to a major theme.  For example, Title 50 deals with the military and defense.

Within the Titles they are divided into Sections, which are numbered usually with a whole number, such as Section 2331. The sections are, in turn divided into subsections, subparagraphs and so forth, labeled (a), (1), (B), and on down the tree. A reference to an item in the U.S. Code often takes the form "18 USC 2331(1)(B)(i)" which means, Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 2331, Subsection (1), Paragraph (B), Subparagraph (i). 

As seen on the government's U.S. Code Download Site, most of these Titles will make a Microsoft Word document of 2-5 megabytes, and some are much larger.  Title 42 alone makes a 46 MB Word file (zow!).  I imagine that in book form, the U.S.Code when thrown would quite probably be a lethal weapon.  This is why "throwing the book at someone" in a courtroom is so serious!

The U.S. Code may be accessed at the government's U.S.Code Download Site. Do also check out their "Search USC" link, this lets you pick out individual Titles and Sections.  Makes life much easier than 46 MB!

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure govern the various rules for actually running a Federal Court.  They talk about how to select a grand jury, the rules of evidence, and so forth.  According to notes in several of the U.S. Code titles, the FRCP are actually an appendix to Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

When Congress proposes a law, it is logged into the queue as H.R. #### (House Resolution), or S.R. #### (Senate Resolution).  If it is passed, it also gets recorded as a Public Law.  Public Laws are numbered according to which session of Congress they were passed.  For example, the 56th law passed by the 107th session of Congress is listed as (surprise!) Public Law 107-56.  Including the current session, Congress has met 108 times since the founding of the United States (a session is 2 years, between elections).

Public Laws, H.R.'s and S.R.'s may be found at the Thomas website.
   Along the top is a list of sessions of Congress, pick the one you want.
   Then for Public Laws, choose 'Public Laws' below it.
   For H.R.'s and S.R.'s, you can either choose that option on the right side of the page that comes up for 'Public Laws', or in the main page, you can choose 'Legislation' and then pick an option in the page that follows.

Presidents of the United States can also enact their own rules, called Executive Orders, without necessarily getting a bill passed by Congress.  I'm not sure how far they are allowed to go with these, such as whether they can override things in the U.S. Code. 

Executive Orders that have been enacted by President George W. Bush (since January 2001) may be found at the White House's site. However, older Executive Orders are not listed here, and I had to do Web searches to find copies of them.