Introduction to Statutes – Part 1

Introduction to Statutes – Part 1

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This is an introduction to statutory
research. It will be presented in two parts. The focus is on how statutes are
published, as this understanding will help you later as we begin talking about
searching and working with statutory provisions. When we talk about statutes
we’re referring to enacted law from the legislative branch of the government,
either the US Congress or one of the state legislatures. When a law is enacted
it is published in three steps, this process is the same whether it is being
published in print or electronic format. You are probably most familiar with the
codes, as that is where researchers tend to do most of their statutory research.
But it is important to understand the entire publication process. When laws are
originally passed they are published as slip laws, which are simply the
individual acts printed in a standalone format. On the federal level most slip
laws will be identified with a public law citation that looks like the one
shown here, public law 111-318. The first number represents the session of congress. The second number is the number of the law passed. So in this example, the law was passed in the 111th Congress and it was the 318th law passed. The next step in the publication process is that the individual laws are complied chronologically in collections known as session
laws. At the federal level the official version of the session law is known as
the US statutes at large. So 124 Stat. 3455 indicates that the
session law is located in the one 124th volume of the
statutes at large on page 3455. The slip
version and the statute at large version of the law should be
identical. So if you were to look at the slip law and
you compared it with the session law if you found it in the
statutes at large that language should be the same. The final step is the
codification of the law. The publication of the law into subject matter
arrangement, and at the federal level this is the United States Code. To help
visualize this process, here is an example of a slip law pulled from the
free government website “FD Sys.” At the top of the slip law you will see that it
is public law 111-318 and that it was signed by the president and became public law on December 18th 2010. They have also highlighted where it
appears in the statutes at large. So even in this earliest slip law format you can
determine where this act will appear in the chronological session law
publication. It will appear in volume 124 of the statutes at large beginning on
page 3455. The zoomed in portion on the right shows the popular name of the Act
and tells us that this was Senate bill 3789 before it became law. It also
tells us where the Act will appear in the United States code. At least parts of
this act, this social security number Protection Act of 2010, will appear as a
note to section 1305 in title 42 of the United States Code. Here we have the session lock
compilations, which again are the chronological arrangement of all laws
enacted by a legislature. The first one is the official united states statutes
at large, which is available in print and also available online in many different
places including in PDF format on Heinonline. The second one I want to mention
in case you hear someone refer to it is what people often call U-scan. Its
official title is the U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News. It
is an unofficial compilation of session laws, but it’s more up to date than the
statutes at large. It’s available on Westlaw as well as in print. States also
have session law compilations for their statutes. The easiest way to determine
the name of a publication for a given jurisdiction is to check table one of
the blue book. In Massachusetts the official publication of session laws is
The Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts. There are two unofficial, but more
current publications from West and Lexis. The West version is referred to as the
Mass Legislative Service and Lexis has the Massachusetts Advanced Legislative
Service. I have provided examples of citations in case you run across them.
The first example is how Massachusetts session laws are often cited in court
cases, and you can see this down under the photo of the acts and resolves
official version. So in court decisions you will often see session laws cited
with the statute, the year, and then the chapter of the Act. The second citation I
provided is the blue book preferred citation style, and again you can refer
to table 1 of the blue book. It’s formatted differently and it includes
the page number where the law begins, as opposed to the law number. And this can be
a particularly useful for pulling up the state session laws on Heinonline. Heinonline has PDFs of virtually all
state session law publications in its session laws library, which you can see
here. Notice that the statute at large volumes are also available on Heinonline
back to volume one. So those are accessible down here. So you will have
the whole history of the united states session laws available on heinonline.
Session laws generally have limited value as a research tool. They reflect
the law as it existed at a fixed point in time and did not incorporate
subsequent amendments or related legislation. For that a researcher would
need to turn to the code. Codes are the most common tool used for statutory
research. And why is this? Well it would be very difficult to find all of the
applicable current laws on a given subject if they were solely arranged
chronologically. So codes came into being because it was useful to have a subject
based compilation that was updated frequently to remove repealed laws and
add amended provisions. The first code pictured is the official print United
States Code. It is published in a new edition every six years and updated
yearly with interim supplements. Unfortunately sometimes the supplements
can take a while to be printed, so it can often be quite out of date in print. This
is one of the reasons that researchers often use the two unofficial versions of
the code. The United States Code Annotated, which you can see here
published by West and it’s available electronically on Westlaw, and the United
States Code Service, which is published by Lexis and available electronically on
that platform. Both are more up-to-date than the
official version. And the other real advantage for research purposes is that
both the USCA and the USCS include annotations. And annotations include
references to cases that have interpreted a
particular Code section, as well as references to helpful secondary sources
like treatises and Law Review articles as well as other research tools. That is
the end of the part 1 to statutory research and we will pick up with video
2.

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