Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives the United States Congress the authority to make laws necessary to carry out the powers of the federal government.
The United States Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) is responsible for passing federal laws. Once enacted, federal laws of general application are arranged by subject, or codified, in the United States Code.
The three steps to the enactment and publication of a federal law include:
2) Slip and Session Laws; and
3) the U.S. Code:
To become a federal law, a bill is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. This federal legislative process is detailed in a series of videos, with transcripts, on the CONGRESS.GOV website, which also provides a glossary of legislative terms.
The full text of bills introduced in Congress from 1993 forward are available on the Legislation page of the CONGRESS.GOV website and the Government Publishing Office’s (GPO’s) Federal Digital System (FDsys) website.
For example, in 1972, Congress passed Senate Bill S. 3419, a law to protect consumers from unreasonable risk of injury from hazardous products called the Consumer Product Safety Act.
Once a federal law is passed, it is assigned a Public Law number and printed as a slip law. It is then published in chronological order in the United States Statutes at Large along with other federal laws that passed during that congressional session.
For example, the Consumer Product Safety Act became law on October 27, 1972 when it was signed by the President and assigned Public Law No. 92-573. The numbers 92-573 tell us that the Consumer Product Safety Act was the 573rd law passed during the 92nd Congress.
Public law No. 92-573 was then published with other laws passed during the 92nd Congress in volume 86, page 1207 (86 Stat. 1207) of the United States Statutes at Large.
The Coleman Karesh Law Library maintains a print copy of the United States Statutes at Large and a digital subscription through the online database Hein Online. Public laws are available from 1993 forward through the Legislation page of the CONGRESS.GOV website or the Government Publishing Office’s (GPO’s) Federal Digital System (FDsys) website.
Next, federal statutes are arranged by subject and assigned title and section numbers, or codified, in the official United States Code. The Coleman Karesh Law Library maintains a print copy of the current official, un-annotated United States Code.
The official print U.S. Code includes the text of each statute in its 52 Titles, along with a statutory history line and notes on amendments to the statute.
An Act, such as the Consumer Product Safety Act, may enact or amend a single federal statute or multiple statutes within one or more titles of the U.S. Code. The Consumer Product Safety Act enacted sections 2051 through 2089 in Title 15 of the U.S. Code. The first section of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2051, to the right outlines congressional findings and declares the purpose of the Act.
The U.S. House of Representatives provides an online version of the United States Code that allows researchers to retrieve a federal statute by citation, search by keyword, browse by title, or locate an Act by popular name.
The official, authenticated U.S. Code is also available to browse, retrieve by citation, or search (home page) on the Government Publishing Offices (GPO’s) FDsys website.
Non-governmental websites such as Cornell’s Legal Information Institute also allow researchers to browse or search the titles of the U.S. Code and to retrieve federal statutes by citation and popular name.