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The Code of Laws of the United States of America (variously abbreviated to Code of Laws of the United States, United States Code, U.S. Code, or U.S.C.) is the official compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States. It contains 51 titles (along with a further four proposed titles). The main edition is published every six years by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives, and cumulative supplements are published annually. The current edition of the code was published in 2012, and according to the Government Printing Office, is over 200,000 pages long. The official version of those United States Acts not codified in USC can be found in United States Statutes at Large.
In the United States, federal laws are subordinate to the United States Constitution but preempt state and local laws. Federal law that conflicts with the Constitution is invalid. State and local laws that conflict with either the Constitution or federal law are similarly invalid. Disputes regarding validity of a law and conflicts between federal and state laws are resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both federal and state laws are considered valid, commonly referred to as constitutional, until challenged and declared otherwise. Even laws declared invalid remain on the statute books unless and until they are formally repealed, and some rulings of invalidity have subsequently been reversed. Also, in the case of conflict between federal and state laws, if the federal law is repealed, it would re-activate the force of the state law.
The official text of an Act of Congress is that of the "enrolled bill" (traditionally printed on parchment) presented to the President for his signature or disapproval. Upon enactment of a law, the original bill is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). After authorization from the OFR, copies are distributed as "slip laws" by the Government Printing Office (GPO). The Archivist assembles annual volumes of the enacted laws and publishes them as the United States Statutes at Large. By law, the text of the Statutes at Large is "legal evidence" of the laws enacted by Congress. Slip laws are also competent evidence.
The Statutes at Large, however, is not a convenient tool for legal research. It is arranged strictly in chronological order so that statutes addressing related topics may be scattered across many volumes. Statutes often repeal or amend earlier laws, and extensive cross-referencing is required to determine what laws are in force at any given time.
The United States Code is the result of an effort to make finding relevant and effective statutes simpler by reorganizing them by subject matter, and eliminating expired and amended sections. The Code is maintained by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (LRC) of the U.S. House of Representatives. The LRC determines which statutes in the United States Statutes at Large should be codified, and which existing statutes are affected by amendments or repeals, or have simply expired by their own terms. The LRC updates the Code accordingly.
Because of this codification approach, a single named statute (like the Taft-Hartley Act, or the Embargo Act) may or may not appear in a single place in the Code. Often, complex legislation bundles a series of provisions together as a means of addressing a social or governmental problem; those provisions often fall in different logical areas of the Code. For example, an Act providing relief for family farms might affect items in Title 7 (Agriculture), Title 26 (Tax), and Title 43 (Public Lands). When the Act is codified, its various provisions might well be placed in different parts of those various Titles. Traces of this process are generally found in the Notes accompanying the "lead section" associated with the popular name, and in cross-reference tables that identify Code sections corresponding to particular Acts of Congress.
Usually, the individual sections of a statute are incorporated into the Code exactly as enacted; however, sometimes editorial changes are made by the LRC (for instance, the phrase "the date of enactment of this Act" is replaced by the actual date). Though authorized by statute, these changes do not constitute positive law.
The authority for the material in the United States Code comes from its enactment through the legislative process and not from its presentation in the Code. For example, the United States Code omitted 12 U.S.C. § 92 for decades, apparently because it was thought to have been repealed. In its 1993 ruling in U.S. National Bank of Oregon v. Independent Insurance Agents of America, the Supreme Court ruled that §92 was still valid law.
The LRC continues the process of revising, updating, and restating the existing body of statutory law in codified form. As the LRC completes particular areas of the law, it proposes that the Congress enact those titles of the Code as "positive law" (i.e., make it an act of Congress itself rather than a restatement of various acts). If a particular title of the United States Code is enacted into law, the enactment repeals all previous enactments on the subject (including those found in the Statutes at Large), thereby making that title of the United States Code "legal evidence" of the law in force. However, In case of a conflict between the text of the Statutes at Large and the text of a provision of the United States Code that has not been enacted as positive law, the text of the Statutes at Large takes precedence.
By law, those titles of the United States Code that have not been enacted into positive law are "prima facie evidence" of the law in effect. The United States Statutes at Large remains the ultimate authority. If a dispute arises as to the accuracy or completeness of the codification of an unenacted title, the courts will turn to the language in the United States Statutes at Large. Where a title has been enacted into positive law, however, a court may neither permit nor require proof of the underlying original statutes. The distinction between enacted and unenacted titles is largely academic because the Code is nearly always accurate. The United States Code is routinely cited by the Supreme Court and other federal courts without mentioning this theoretical caveat. On a day-to-day basis, very few lawyers cross-reference the Code to the Statutes at Large. Attempting to capitalize on the possibility that the text of the United States Code can differ from the United States Statutes at Large, Bancroft-Whitney for many years published a series of volumes known as United States Code Service (USCS), which used the actual text of the United States Statutes at Large.
Only "general and permanent" laws are codified; the Code does not usually include provisions that apply only to a limited number of people (a private law) or for a limited time, such as most appropriation acts or budget laws, which apply only for a single fiscal year. If these limited provisions are significant, however, they may be printed as "notes" underneath related sections of the Code. The codification is based on the content of the laws, however, not the vehicle by which they are adopted; so, for instance, if an appropriations act contains substantive, permanent legislation (as is sometimes the case), the permanent provisions will be incorporated into the Code even though they were adopted as part of a non-permanent enactment.
The Code is divided into 51 titles (listed below), which deal with broad, logically organized areas of legislation. Titles may optionally be divided into subtitles, parts, subparts, chapters, and subchapters. All titles have sections (represented by a §), as their basic coherent units, and sections are numbered sequentially across the entire title without regard to the previously-mentioned divisions of titles. Sections are often divided into (from largest to smallest) subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, clauses, subclauses, items, and subitems. Congress, by convention, names a particular subdivision of a section according to its largest element. For example, "subsection (c)(3)(B)(iv)" is not a subsection but a clause, namely clause (iv) of subparagraph (B) of paragraph (3) of subsection (c); if the identity of the subsection and paragraph were clear from the context, one would refer to the clause as "subparagraph (B)(iv)".
Not all titles use the same series of subdivisions above the section level, and they may arrange them in different order. For example, in Title 26 (the tax code), the order of subdivision runs:
In Title 38 (Veteran's Benefits) the order runs Title - Part - Chapter - Subchapter - Section. Put another way, the Title is always the largest division of the Code, and the section the smallest (except for subsections, paragraphs, clauses, etc.), but intermediate levels vary in both number and sequence from Title to Title.
The word "title" in this context is roughly akin to a printed "volume," although many of the larger titles span multiple volumes. Similarly, no particular size or length is associated with other subdivisions; a section might run several pages in print, or just a sentence or two. Some subdivisions within particular titles acquire meaning of their own; for example, it is common for lawyers to refer to a "Chapter 11 bankruptcy" or a "Subchapter S corporation" (often shortened to "S corporation").
According to one legal style manual, a sample citation would be "Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2006)", read aloud as "Title five, United States Code, section five fifty-two A" or simply "five USC five fifty-two A."
When sections are repealed, their text is deleted and replaced by a note summarizing what used to be there. This is so that lawyers reading old cases can understand what the cases are talking about. As a result, some portions of the Code consist entirely of empty chapters full of historical notes. For example, Title 8, Chapter 7 is labeled "Exclusion of Chinese." This contains historical notes relating to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which is no longer in effect.
Sometimes, Congress or the LRC underestimates the future importance of a new government program, and does not reserve enough space in the U.S.C.'s section numbers for future statutes related to that program. Then Congress never gets around to the task of reorganizing and renumbering all the sections in a title, which forces Congressional drafters to resort to awkward methods to shoehorn new laws into the existing section numbering of a title. One method is to add additional letters and numbers to section numbers; another method is to simply jam more subsections under a single section number. In turn, some parts of the U.S.C. feature sections with strange numbers which have so many subsections included that they become very difficult to read. Many examples can be found in the statutes governing the huge Medicare and Medicaid programs, which were originally assigned, respectively, to sections 1395 and 1396 of Title 42. Take for example, which requires state approval of marketing materials for certain organizations.
Early efforts at codifying the Acts of Congress were undertaken by private publishers; these were useful shortcuts for research purposes, but had no official status. Congress undertook an official codification called the Revised Statutes of the United States approved June 22, 1874, for the laws in effect as of December 1, 1873. Congress re-enacted a corrected version in 1878. The Revised Statutes were enacted as positive law, but subsequent enactments were not incorporated into the official code, so that over time researchers once again had to delve through many volumes of the Statutes at Large.
According to the preface to the Code, "From 1897 to 1907 a commission was engaged in an effort to codify the great mass of accumulating legislation. The work of the commission involved an expenditure of over $300,000, but was never carried to completion." In the absence of an official code, private publishers once again collected the more recent statutes into unofficial codes. The first edition of the United States Code (published as Statutes at Large Volume 44, Part 1) includes cross-reference tables between the U.S.C. and two of these unofficial codes, United States Compiled Statutes Annotated by West Publishing Co. and Federal Statutes Annotated by Edward Thompson Co.
During the 1920s, some members of Congress revived the codification project, resulting in the approval of the United States Code by Congress in 1926.
The official version of the Code is published by the LRC as a series of paper volumes. The first edition of the Code was contained in a single bound volume; today, it spans several large volumes. Normally, a new edition of the Code is issued every six years, with annual cumulative supplements identifying the changes made by Congress since the last "main edition" was published.
Both the LRC and the GPO offer electronic versions of the Code to the public. The electronic version may be as much as 18 months behind current legislation, but it is the most up to date official version. The United States Code is available from the LRC at uscode.house.gov in both HTML and XML bulk formats. The "United States Legislative Markup" (USLM) schema of the XML was designed to be consistent with the Akoma Ntoso project (from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) XML schema, and the OASIS LegalDocML technical committee standard will be based upon Akoma Ntoso.
Practicing lawyers who can afford them almost always use an annotated version of the U.S. Code from a private company. The two leading annotated versions are the United States Code Annotated, abbreviated as U.S.C.A., and the United States Code Service, abbreviated as U.S.C.S. The U.S.C.A. is published by West (part of Thomson Reuters), and U.S.C.S. is published by LexisNexis (part of Reed Elsevier), which purchased the publication from the Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co. in 1997 as a result of an antitrust settlement. These annotated versions contain notes following each section of the law, which organize and summarize court decisions, law review articles, and other authorities that pertain to the code section, and may also include uncodified provisions that are part of the Public Laws. The publishers of these versions frequently issue supplements that contain newly enacted laws, which may not yet have appeared in an official published version of the Code, as well as updated secondary materials such as new court decisions on the subject. When an attorney is viewing an annotated code on an online service, such as Westlaw or LexisNexis, all the citations in the annotations are hyperlinked to the referenced court opinions and other documents.
The Code generally contains only those Acts of Congress known as public laws (although the notes sometimes contain related Executive Orders and other presidential documents). The Code does not contain statutes known as private laws. It also does not contain statutes that are not considered permanent (such as appropriations); nor does it contain regulations adopted by executive agencies through the rulemaking process set out in the Administrative Procedure Act. These regulations are published chronologically in the Federal Register and are then compiled by topic or subject matter in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), which constitutes an additional important source of federal law.
There are conflicting opinions on the number of federal crimes, but many have argued that there has been explosive growth and it has become overwhelming. In 1982, the U.S. Justice Department could not come up with a number, but estimated 3,000 crimes in the United States Code. In 1998, the American Bar Association (ABA) said that it was likely much higher than 3,000, but didn't give a specific estimate. In 2008, the Heritage Foundation published a report that put the number at a minimum of 4,450. When staff for a task force of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to update its 2008 calculation of criminal offenses in the U.S.C. in 2013, the CRS responded that they lack the manpower and resources to accomplish the task.
Titles that have been enacted into positive law are indicated by blue shading below. Titles whose laws have been repealed are indicated by red shading below.
|Title 1||General Provisions|
|Title 2||The Congress|
|Title 3||The President|
|Title 4||Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States|
|Title 5||Government Organization and Employees*|
|Surety Bonds (repealed)|
(Enacted into positive law by the 80th Congress in 1947; combined into Title 31 when it was enacted into positive law.)
|Title 6||Domestic Security|
|Title 8||Aliens and Nationality|
|Title 10||Armed Forces (including the Uniform Code of Military Justice)|
|Title 12||Banks and Banking|
|Title 14||Coast Guard|
|Title 15||Commerce and Trade|
|Title 18||Crimes and Criminal Procedure*|
|Title 19||Customs Duties|
|Title 21||Food and Drugs|
|Title 22||Foreign Relations and Intercourse|
|Title 24||Hospitals and Asylums|
|Title 26||Internal Revenue Code|
|Title 27||Intoxicating Liquors|
|Title 28||Judiciary and Judicial Procedure|
|Title 30||Mineral Lands and Mining|
|Title 31||Money and Finance|
|Title 32||National Guard|
|Title 33||Navigation and Navigable Waters|
|Title 34||Navy (repealed all of Title 34 in 1956 when Navy was moved into Title 10 subtitle C)|
|Title 36||Patriotic Societies and Observances|
|Title 37||Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services|
|Title 38||Veterans' Benefits|
|Title 39||Postal Service|
|Title 40||Public Buildings, Properties, and Works|
|Title 41||Public Contracts|
|Title 42||The Public Health and Welfare|
|Title 43||Public Lands|
|Title 44||Public Printing and Documents|
|Title 47||Telegraphs, Telephones, and Radiotelegraphs|
|Title 48||Territories and Insular Possessions|
(enacted into positive law in stages; Title IV in 1978, Title I in 1983, and Titles II, III, and V-X in 1994)
|Title 50||War and National Defense|
|Title 51||National and Commercial Space Programs|
Note: The OLRC has produced a draft version of the codification of Title 35 (subtitles III and IV).
* Includes Appendix of provisions not yet enacted into positive law.
The Office of Law Revision Counsel has produced draft text for an additional four titles of federal law. The subject matter of these titles exists today in one or several titles. If and when enacted, these titles would actually perform two functions: moving law from one location in the US Code to another, and to convert it into positive law.
|Title 52||Voting and Elections|
|Title 53||Small Business|
|Title 54||National Park System|
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