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Urban Studies Planning Law: Legislative Branch (statutory law)


Statutory law in the United States consists of the laws passed by the legislative branch. US Congress in the case of the Federal Government. Minnesota Legislature in the case of the state of Minnesota.

For Federal legislation, a bill is passed by Congress and signed by the President becoming a Public Law.  The legislation receives a Public Law number based on the Congress and when it was issued.  Therefore, P.L. 101-5 would be the fifth law enacted in the 101st Congress. 

Public laws are first published as slip laws and are subsequently bound into the Statutes at Large.  The Statutes at Large are bound laws in the order that they were passed.

Eventually, the laws are organized by subject, indexed, and published in the United States Code.  The United States Code consists of 50 separately numbered titles.  Each title contains laws specifically relating to that subject.  The code enables researchers to find the particular law they are looking for without having to know when it was passed.

Legislative Process

The following table illustrates how an idea for a law eventually becomes a codified law in the United States Code.  Each of these resulting publications can be important for a researcher in understanding the purpose behind a certain law. 

Legislative Action Resulting Publications 
A bill or resolution is introduced in a chamber of Congress and referred to committee Bills and resolutions
The committee holds hearings Hearings
The committee recommends passage Senate and House reports
Chamber debates Record of debate
Chamber votes Record of votes
President signs or vetoes the bill Presidential statements
Law is enacted

Slip laws, then Statutes at Large

Law is incorporated into the United States Code (codified). United States Code

How to Read a Citation

Citations to the United States Code generally follow the typical pattern of legal citation discussed in the Introduction. For example, here are the parts of a citation to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (2006).

28 U.S.C. §1332 (2006)
Title Number Code Publication/Source Section Number Date of publication


Below are examples of how to read code, public law, and Statutes at Large citations:

28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 Title 28, United States Code Annotated, Section 1332
P.L. 100-3 100th Congress, Public Law number 3
121 Stat 4 Volume 121, Statutes at Large, page 4

Search Tools

The following are ways to search for a statute using the code itself:   

Tables of Contents:  All statutory codes will have a table of contents.  Generally these table of contents will provide a list of the titles and the sections in those titles. 

Statutory Index:  The subject index allows users to search for their issues based on a structured index.  Provides references to appropriate code sections.

The following are other methods for locating a statute citation:

Legal Encyclopedias:  Sources like American Jurisprudence and Corpus Juris Secundum can provide users with annotations to statutes and case law.  The Library has access to American Jurisprudence via Lexis Nexis. Corpus Juris Secundum is in print in the Reference Collection and is no longer being updated. Look up your issue in the index to find sections of these sources on your particular issue. 

Secondary books:  Many legal secondary books (treatises & hornbooks) will provide users with citations for statutory law.  The Library does not keep an active collection of many legal secondary books, but some are available in Lexis Nexis and you can use World Cat to request via Interlibrary Loan.

Law Review Articles: Law review articles are available full text via Lexis Nexis and Legal Source database. These are scholarly journals, usually associated with a law school that study recent developments in the law. Extensive citations can lead you to relevant law from all three branches of government.

Note about law review articles in Nexis Uni: Most of our databases journal information is connected. Thus if one finds information about a journal article in one database, and the full text of the article is available in another database, you have one maybe two clicks to get the text of the article. Nexis Uni has the full text of a large number of law review journals, but these do not connect to our other databases. So if you find information about a law review article elsewhere and it appears we don't have access to that journal, try searching the title of the article you want in Nexis Uni and it may be available there.

US Code and Statutes at Large

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