The United States Code is the official compilation of all general and permanent federal laws enacted by the U.S. Congress through the legislative process. The laws compiled into the United States Code should not be confused with federal regulations, which are created by the various federal agencies to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.
The United States Code is arranged under headings called "titles," with each title containing laws pertaining to particular subjects such as "The Congress," "The President," "Banks and Banking" and "Commerce and Trade." The current (Spring 2011) United States Code is made up of 51 titles, ranging from "Title 1: General Provisions," to the most-recently added, "Title 51: National and Commercial Space Programs." Federal crimes and legal procedures are covered under "Title 18 - Crimes and Criminal Procedure" of the United States Code.
Background: In the United States, laws can be enacted by the federal government, as well as all local, county and state governments. All laws enacted by all levels of government must be written, enacted and enforced according to the rights, freedoms and responsibilities contained in the U.S. Constitution.
Compiling the United States Code
As the final step of the U.S. federal legislative process, once a bill has been passed by both the House and Senate, it becomes an "enrolled bill" and is sent to the President of the United States who may either sign it into law or veto it. Once laws have been enacted, they are incorporated into the United States Code as follows:
- The official text of new laws is sent to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) - a division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
- The OFR confirms that the official text of the laws is accurate and authorizes the Government Printing Office (GPO) to distribute the text as "Public and Private Laws," also called "slip laws."
- Volumes of enacted laws are assembled annually by the National Archivist and published by the GPO in a form called the "United States Statutes at Large." In the Statutes at Large, the laws have not been arranged by subject matter and do not include amendments that might have been made to earlier laws. However, every law, public and private, ever enacted by the Congress is published in the Statutes at Large in order of the date of its passage.
- Since the Statutes at Large are not organized by subject matter, or dependably updated when laws are repealed or amended, they are extremely hard to search and are of little use to researchers. To the rescue comes the United States Code, maintained by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (LRC) of the U.S. House of Representatives. The LRC takes the laws or "statutes" added to the Statutes at Large and determines which ones are new and which existing laws have been amended, repealed or have expired. The LRC then incorporates the new laws and changes into the United States Code.
There two most widely used and dependable sources for accessing the most current version on the Untied States Code are:
- The Office of the Law Revision Counsel (LRC): Maintained by the House of Representatives, the LRC is the only official source of the most current versions of statutes and amendments in the United States Code. From the LRC's download web site, copies of individual titles (categories) of the United States Code can be viewed or downloaded in text or .PDF format. In addition, the LRC provides a very flexible utility for searching the United States Code.
- Cornell University School of Law LII: Cornell's LLI - Legal Information Institute - is often cited as "the most linked to web resource in the field of law" and its United States Code index certainly lives up to that reputation. Along with several conveniently arranged indexes and flexible ways to search the Code, each page of the Code features a "How Current is This?" button providing researchers with the most current updates. LLI tries to incorporate any new laws or amendments authorized by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel within 24 hours.