What is United States Codification?

By | September 11, 2009

The United States Code (U.S.C.) is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal law of the United States.

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 Archivist of the United States, and duplicate copies are issued in pamphlet form 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.

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 effect 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, a bill providing relief for family farms might affect items in Title 7 (Agriculture), Title 26 (Tax), and Title 43 (Public Lands). When the bill 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. Sometimes, however, editorial changes are made (for instance, the phrase “the date of enactment of this Act” is replaced by the actual date).

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