Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Layers of Laws

Even though July 4th is over, we certainly don't stop being Americans with civic responsibilities on July 5th! Let's keep exploring the history and structure of the U.S. government together...

The Constitution is the basis of American law, but if you've ever run up against corporate law or tax law--or looked at the course listings for a law school--you know that the Constitution does not include every law in the United States.

Constitutional authority for lawmaking comes from Article 1, Section 1, which says, "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Article 1 goes on to detail the powers that Congress is permitted to legislate.

That's where the U.S. Code comes in. According to the Government Printing Office, "The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States."

The Code is broken into sections (titles) by topic: for example, Title 20 is about education and Title 50 deals with war and national defense. Each Title is divided into chapters, which are divided into subchapters, parts, sections, and so on, leading you to something like this:
From the U.S. Code Online via GPO Access
[www.gpoaccess.gov]
[Laws in effect as of January 3, 2007]
[CITE: 20USC2341]

[Page 783]

TITLE 20--EDUCATION

CHAPTER 44--CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION

SUBCHAPTER I--CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION ASSISTANCE TO THE STATES


Part B--State Provisions


Sec. 2341. State administration


(a) Eligible agency responsibilities

The responsibilities of an eligible agency under this subchapter shall include--
(1) coordination of the development, submission, and implementation of the State plan...
The entire Code is available in searchable format online. So, the next time you want to know about the proper time and occasions to display the U.S. flag, you can go to the U.S. Code, browse the topics, go to Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 6, and start reading!

Keep your eyes on my blog for periodic snippets of history and trivia about the workings of the U.S. government.

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