Published: December 7, 2017
A statute is a law passed by a legislative body.
A federal statute is thus a law passed by the legislative branch of the federal government, the congress.
This is generally done with the approval of the president, though occasionally a presidential veto may be overridden with the support of a two-thirds majority in each chamber of congress.
Statutory law – law created by statutes – is distinguished from case law, which refers to legal precedent established by judicial decisions in legal cases. These precedents guide judges in deciding similar cases in the future.
When a bill becomes a federal statute, it is published in a three step process:
1) It is initially published as a slip law.
A slip law is simply an individual copy of a new law which is published immediately after the law is enacted.
2) At the end of every session of Congress, all the slip laws published in that session are compiled and published in the Statutes at Large, ordered by the date the slip laws were enacted.
At this point, the compiled slip laws are known as session laws.
The Statutes at Large is a collection of all the slip laws, produced by every session of Congress.
It is divided into volumes, where each volume contains all the slip laws for a particular session of Congress.
For example, Volume 123 of the Statutes at Large contains all the laws passed by the 1st session of the 111th Congress, in chronological order.
We cite a statute listed in the Statutes at Large using the volume in which the law is published and the page on which it starts.
For example, 119 Stat. 368 is the citation for a statute that begins on page 368 of volume 119.
This citation should be preceded by the name of the statute and the statute’s law number.
You can view the Statutes at Large here.
3) And finally, federal statutes which are of a “general and permanent” nature are compiled, by subject, into the United States Code.
Private laws are not included in the Code.
The Government Publishing Office publishes a new edition of the Code every six years and publishes annual supplements in each of the five intervening years.
The Code is divided into titles, with each title covering a different subject.
For example, title 5 covers Government Organization and Employees, whereas title 18 deals with Crimes and Criminal Procedure.
And each of these titles are divided into different sections.
(Strictly speaking, the titles are composed of parts, which are composed of chapters, which are composed of sections.)
For example, section 7301 of title 5 covers the authority of the President to prescribe regulations for the code of conduct of executive branch employees.
We cite the United States Code with a title number, followed by U.S.C., a section number, and the edition of the Code you are citing.
For example, 5 U.S.C § 7301 (2016) refers to section 7301 of title 5 of the U.S. Code and indicates that you are citing the 2016 edition of the Code.
You can view the United States Code here.