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LRAW Research Spring 2023

Federal Laws

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:

  1. Bills;
  2. Slip Laws, also known as Session Laws, published in the U.S. Statutes at Large; and
  3. the United States Code.

1. Bills

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.

 Wheel on the Congress.gov website showing the steps in the legislative process. Click on the steps around the wheel to play the individual videos.

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) govinfo website.

For example, in 2002, Congress passed a law to protect shareholders from fraud committed by publicly traded companies. The Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act, commonly referred to as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, passed as House Bill H.R. 3763.

2. Slip Laws / Session Laws in the U.S. Statutes at Large

Once Congress passes a bill into law, it is assigned a Public Law number and 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 Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 became law on 7/30/2002 when it was signed by the President and assigned Public Law No. 107-204. The numbers 107-204 tell us that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was the 204th law passed during the 107th Congress

Table of Contents page of Public Law 107-204, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. See link below for the text of the Public Law.

Text of Public Law No. 107-240.


Public Law No. 107-204 was then published with other laws passed during the 107th Congress in volume 116, page 745 (116 Stat. 745) of the United States Statutes at Large.

 

United States Statutes at Large volumes.

 

Public Laws are accessible through CONGRESS.GOV and the Government Publishing Office’s (GPO’s) govinfo websiteThe Law Library maintains a print copy of the United States Statutes at Large and a digital subscription through the online database Hein Online. Digitized volumes of the United States Statutes at Large from 1951 forward are available via govinfo.

 

3. The United States Code

United States Code volumes.

Next, federal statutes are arranged, or codified, by subject and published in the official print United States Code by title and section.

 

An Act, like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, may enact or amend a single federal statute or multiple statutes within one or more titles of the U.S. Code. For example, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 enacted statutes in both Title 15 and Title 18 of the United States Code.


Section 806a of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which provides whistleblower protection for employees of publicly traded companies, was codified as section 1514A of Title 18 in the United States Code (18 U.S.C. § 1514A).


The official print United States Code:

  • includes the text of each statute, a statutory history line, and notes on amendments to the statute,
  • is not annotated,
  • is revised every six (6) years, and
  • is updated between revised editions by annual hardbound cumulative supplements I through V.

The official United States Code set also contains:

  • the unannotated Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in the appendix to Title 18;
  • the unnanotated Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Civil Procedure, and Evidence in the appendix to Title 28;
  • a Tables volume that includes a United States Statutes at Large section-to-United States Code section table, a revised statutes table, and a Popular Names table; and,
  • General Index volumes for all titles of the code.

The United States Code is available to browse or search online on the GPO's govinfo website. The U.S. House's Office of Law Revision Counsel also maintains a website that allows you to easily browse, search or retrieve U.S. Code sections by citation or popular name.

Anatomy of a Federal Statute

TITLE 18—CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Section and name of the statute.


§ 1203. Hostage taking

Subsections of section 1203.

     (a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third person or a governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person detained, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life and, if the death of any person results, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.

     (b)(1) It is not an offense under this section if the conduct required for the offense occurred outside the United States unless--

           (A) the offender or the person seized or detained is a national of the United States;

           (B) the offender is found in the United States; or

           (C) the governmental organization sought to be compelled is the Government of the United States.

     (2) It is not an offense under this section if the conduct required for the offense occurred inside the United States, each alleged offender and each person seized or detained are nationals of the United States, and each alleged offender is found in the United States, unless the governmental organization sought to be compelled is the Government of the United States.

     (c) As used in this section, the term “national of the United States” has the meaning given such term in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22)).

History line for section 1203 (in chronological order. Enacted in 1984 by Pub. L. No. 98-473 and last amended in 1996 by Pub. L. No.  104-132.

(Added Pub.L. 98-473, Title II, § 2002(a), Oct. 12, 1984, 98 Stat. 2186; amended Pub.L. 100-690, Title VII, § 7028, Nov. 18, 1988, 102 Stat. 4397; Pub.L. 103-322, Title VI, § 60003(a)(10), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 1969; Pub.L. 104-132, Title VII, § 723(a)(1), Apr. 24, 1996, 110 Stat. 1300.)