Statutory Law is the term used to define written laws, usually enacted by a legislative body. Statutory laws vary from regulatory or administrative laws that are passed by executive agencies, and common law, or the law created by prior court decisions.
Unlike common law, which is subject to interpretation in its application by the court, statutory laws are generally strictly construed by courts. Strict construction means that courts are generally not able to read between the liens of a statute in order to liberalize its application. Rather, they will be bound by its express terms.
As legislative enactments, statutory laws follow the usual process of legislation. A bill is proposed in the legislature and voted upon. If approved, it passes to the executive branch (either a governor at the state level or the president at the federal level). If the executive signs the bill it passes into law as a statute. If the executive fails or refuses to sign the bill, it can be vetoed and sent back to the legislature. In most instances, if the legislature again passes the bill by a set margin it becomes a statute.
Statutes are also recorded, or codified, in writing and published. Statutory law usually becomes effective on a set date written into the bill. Statutes can be overturned by a later legislative enactment or if found unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction.
For more information on statutory laws, please review the materials listed below.
Statutory Law - US
- ABA - State and Local Government Section
The ABA Section of State and Local Government Law is the premier association for lawyers involved in urban, state, and local government law and policy.
- Law Library of Congress - Statutory Law
Statutory law can be found in two types of publications: compilations of statutes or codified laws.7 Both the compilations and the codes have the same wording, but their formats are different. A federal law is given the number of the U.S. Congress that passed it and a second number that represents the chronological order of its passage. “Pub. L. 88-352” indicates the 352nd law passed by the 88th Congress. After passage, a law is codified, or published according to its subject category. Public Law 88-352 can also be found in the United States Code, (see Law Library External Sites) where the citation is 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Remember, though, that not all laws are codified.
- Statute - Overview
A statute is a written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level. Statutes set forth general propositions of law that courts apply to specific situations. A statute may forbid a certain act, direct a certain act, make a declaration, or set forth governmental mechanisms to aid society. A statute begins as a bill proposed or sponsored by a legislator. If the bill survives the legislative committee process and is approved by both houses of the legislature, the bill becomes law when it is signed by the executive officer (the president on the federal level or the governor on the state level). When a bill becomes law, the various provisions in the bill are called statutes. The term statute signifies the elevation of a bill from legislative proposal to law. State and federal statutes are compiled in statutory codes that group the statutes by subject. These codes are published in book form and are available at law libraries.
- United States Code
The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1926, the United States Code has been published every six years.
State Statutory Laws
Organizations Related to Statutory Law
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.
- Office of the Law Revision Counsel
The Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the United States Code, which is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States.
Publications Related to Statutory Law
- DOL - Updating Statutory Law Sections
It is easy to update regulatory sections (see the tip "Updating Federal Regulations"), but frequently researchers are less familiar with the process of updating statutory sections. Due to the number of laws voted on and passed during each Congressional session, it may seem next to impossible to update statutory law easily. Fortunately, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel in the U.S. House of Representatives prepares and publishes the United States Code (USC or "Code"), and provides on its website resources that can be used to update USC sections. If you are working with a USC section and want to determine if recently passed legislation has affected it, simply go to the U.S. Code Classification Tables.
- Introduction to Basic Legal Citation
When lawyers present legal arguments and judges write opinions, they cite authority. They lace their representations of what the law is and how it applies to a given situation with references to statutes, regulations, and prior appellate decisions they believe to be pertinent and supporting. They also refer to persuasive secondary literature such as treatises, restatements, and journal articles. As a consequence, those who would read law writing and do law writing must master a new, technical language – "legal citation."
- Statutes at Large
The United States Statutes at Large, commonly referred to as the Statutes at Large, is the official source for the laws and resolutions passed by Congress. Publication began in 1845 by the private firm of Little, Brown and Company under authority granted by a joint resolution of Congress. In 1874, Congress transferred the authority to publish the Statutes at Large to the Government Printing Office, which has been responsible for producing the set since that time.