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Understanding Statutes  

Effective research of statutes requires the researcher to understand how statutes are organized.
Last Updated: Apr 25, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Statutes - Definitions Print Page

Basic Legal Research Concepts

  • Legal Research - Authority
    Authority and jurisdiction are two fundamental concepts in conducting legal research. This topic is designed to provide the legal researcher with a working background into these concepts.
  • Case Law and Legal Research
    While the legislature enacts statutes, the courts have the function of interpreting the meanings of those statutes in the context of the cases that are before them. No legal research is complete without researching how courts have decided prior cases presenting similar facts or issues.
  • Understanding Statutes
    This topic is designed to help you understand the basic organization of statutes so you can improve your legal research into them.

Understanding Statutes

Statutes - Definitions:

The written body of law is statutes. Broadly speaking, statutory law consists of: Constitutions, legislation, treaties (federal), administrative rules (delegated legislation), court rules, and interstate compacts.

·         Constitutions exist at the federal, state, and local levels of government. The federal government and state governments call their constitutions “Constitution.” Local governments (city, town, or county) call their constitutions “Municipal Charter.”

·         Federal, state, and local (city, town, and county) governments all enact legislation. The product of legislative action is called a statute (or an act). A municipal ordinance is a legislative enactment of a local governing body (such as a city council of county board of supervisors) concerning a local matter. It is also referred to as a municipal statute.

·         An interstate compact is an agreement between two or more states on matters of interstate importance and cooperation.

·         The popular names of statutes generally come from either the subject matter of the statute, or the name(s) of the sponsor(s) of the act. Statutes can acquire a popular name either before or after the enactment of the legislation.

General statute/act/law/public laws are enactments that apply to the general public.

·         In addition to being initiated by a member of the legislature, proposed legislation may originate by the chief executive, and administrative agency, a trade association, a special interest group, a law review commission, a legislative council, or a judicial council. Nevertheless, the proposal must be introduced to the legislature for consideration by a member of the legislature.

·         Some public laws may apply to a small group of people, especially if the legislation is promoted by a special interest group.

Special laws are laws that are private, local, or temporary in character.

·         A private law is a statute that has limited applicability in that it applies to a specific group, individual, or entity rather than the public at large. It is also called a private act.

·         A local law is a statute that applies only within a specific geographic area rather than throughout the entire jurisdiction.

·         A temporary law is a statute of limited duration. It is an enactment of the legislature that applies for a specific period of time rather than indefinitely.

·         A permanent law is a statute that continues in effect indefinitely (until it is repealed).

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