The Constitution establishes the parameters of federal law, which is composed of congressional acts, treaties passed by Senate, executive branch regulations, and federal court decisions.


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The Constitution of the United States, which specifies the framework for the federal government of the United States as well as a number of civil liberties, is the most significant piece of codified and uncodified law in the country. The Constitution establishes the parameters of federal law, which is composed of congressional acts, treaties passed by the Senate, executive branch regulations, and federal court decisions. The official collection and codification of broad and enduring federal statutory law is the United States Code.

In the 50 U.S. states and the territories, competing state and territorial laws are preempted by federal law and treaties as long as they are in conformity with the Constitution. However, because the reach of federal power is not absolute, the breadth of federal preemption is constrained. States are the plenary sovereigns in the American federalist system, which is technically tripartite due to the existence of Indian reserves. Each state has its own constitution, whereas the federal sovereign only has the restricted supreme authority set down in the Constitution. Indeed, as long as they don’t violate any federal constitutional rights, states may provide their residents more freedoms than those outlined in the US Constitution. Therefore, state law, which can and often does differ widely from one state to the next, makes up the majority of U.S. law, particularly the actual “living law” of contract, tort, property, criminal, and family law encountered by the majority of individuals on a daily basis.

The common law system of English law, which was in place in British America at the time of the American Revolutionary War, is basically where the law of the United States, both at the federal and state levels, with the exception of Louisiana’s legal system. However, American law has significantly strayed from its English parent in both content and method, and it has taken a number of innovations from the civil law.


State or federal courts may declare a law to be unconstitutional and invalid if it is passed by Congress and clashes with the Constitution.

A statute may be repealed by a later statute, which is noteworthy since a statute does not simply vanish just because it has been ruled illegal. After being deemed unconstitutional, some federal and state laws have endured for decades on the books. But because of the stare decisis rule, no reasonable lower court will uphold an unconstitutional law, and any court that does will have its decision overturned by the Supreme Court. In contrast, any court that declines to uphold a constitutional law (where such legality has been specifically established in past judgements) runs the possibility of having its decision overturned by the Supreme Court.

American Common Law:

The common law legal tradition of English law is carried on by the majority of Commonwealth nations, including the United States. The Constitution clearly forbade some behaviours that were previously permitted under English common law, such as general search warrants and bills of attainder.

U.S. courts have inherited the concept of stare decisis as common law courts. Like common law judges everywhere, American judges not only apply the law but also create it, with the result that their decisions in cases that come before them set the standard for decisions in cases that come after.

The United States formally “acquired” English law in a number of different ways. First off, all U.S. states have adopted “reception statutes,” which generally declare that the common law of England (particularly judge-made law) is the law of the state to the extent that it is not in conflict with domestic law or native conditions. Louisiana is the lone exception to this rule. Some reception laws mandate a certain cutoff point for reception, such as the establishment date of a colony, while others are purposefully ambiguous. So, when describing the development of a long-ago judge-made common law norm into its contemporary form, such as the increased duty of care typically imposed upon common carriers, modern U.S. courts frequently refer to instances from before the American Revolution.

Second, a select few significant British laws that were in force at the time of the American Revolution have been separately reenacted by state legislatures in the United States. Examples include the Statute of Frauds, which is still commonly recognised by that name in the United States, and the Statute of 13 Elizabeth (the ancestor of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act). Such English legislation are frequently invoked today in American court cases interpreting their modern American offspring.

Despite the existence of reception statutes, American common law has drastically departed from English common law in many areas. [31] American courts rarely adopt post-Revolution precedents from England or the British Commonwealth, despite the fact that the courts of the various Commonwealth countries frequently draw inspiration from one another’s decisions.

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Due to the fact that many American court decisions on appeal were not regularly publicised until the middle of the 19th century, American courts did frequently use recent English precedents early on, even after the Revolution. To fill the void, attorneys and judges employed English legal resources. As American courts established their own rules to address the legal issues facing the American people, references to English judgements increasingly decreased over the 19th century.

By 1910, there were more than 8,000 published volumes of American reports, up from only 18 in 1810. One of the California Constitutional Convention’s delegates began to voice his displeasure in 1879 “Now, when we ask them to justify a choice, we don’t expect them to go into exhaustive detail and write a hundred pages. We do not intend for them to include minor instances or force the nation to study all of this beautiful legal material; the Lord knows we already have enough of it.”

Lawrence M. Friedman, a law professor at Stanford, said the following today: “Cases in America use foreign sources very infrequently. Courts may occasionally reference a few British classics, a well-known old case, or Blackstone, but they hardly ever refer to contemporary British law.” As a reflection of the shared principles of Anglo-American society or even Western civilization in general, foreign law has never been recognised as a binding precedent.

Levels of Laws:
Federal Law

The Constitution is the source of federal law and grants Congress the authority to pass laws for specific, constrained objectives like regulating interstate trade. The official collection and codification of general and enduring federal statutes is known as the United States Code. The creation of regulations, which are published in the Federal Register and incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations, is a power granted to executive branch agencies by numerous acts. The Chevron theory normally also accords regulations the same legal weight as laws. According to the concept of stare decisis, judicial interpretations of a federal statute’s or regulation’s meaning are legally binding in many lawsuits.

Federal law has historically concentrated on areas where the federal government has been explicitly granted authority by the federal Constitution, such as the military, money, foreign affairs (particularly international treaties), tariffs, intellectual property (specifically patents and copyrights), and mail. Federal law has been allowed to encroach into industries like aviation, telecommunications, railroads, pharmaceuticals, antitrust, and trademarks since the turn of the 20th century because to expansive interpretations of the Constitution’s Commerce and Spending Clauses.

In other areas, like family law, a relatively small number of federal statutes (typically covering interstate and international situations) interact with a much larger body of state law. The federal government has developed comprehensive schemes that preempt virtually all state law in some areas, like aviation and railroads. Strong laws exist at the federal and state levels that coexist in areas including antitrust, trademarks, and employment law. Congress has passed legislation specifically refusing to regulate some industries, such as insurance, as long as the states already have laws governing those areas (see, e.g., the McCarran–Ferguson Act).


A bill is transferred to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after the president signs it into law (or after Congress passes it over the president’s veto) so that it can be prepared for publication as a slip law and given a law number. The OFR also issues legal statutory citations for public laws but not private laws. The United States Statutes at Large, often known as session laws, are bound collections of the slip laws that are created at the conclusion of each congressional session. The Statutes at Large list the statutes in chronological order, in the precise order in which they were passed.

All general and permanent laws of the United States are codified in the United States Code, which includes public laws. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives releases the main edition every six years, while cumulative supplements are released annually. According to subject matter, the U.S. Code displays the current state of statutes (with revisions already included into the text) that have undergone one or more amendments.

State and Territory Law:

The fifty American states each have their own state constitutions, state governments, and state courts, making them independent sovereign nations. All states have a legislative branch that creates state laws, an administrative branch that implements those laws through executive orders, and a judiciary branch that applies, interprets, and on occasion reverses all of the aforementioned laws as well as local ordinances. They continue to have full authority to enact laws that do not conflict with the federal Constitution, federal statutes, or international agreements ratified by the Senate.

Unless their interpretation itself raises a federal question, in which case a decision may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court via a petition for writ of certiorari, state supreme courts often serve as the last arbiters of state constitutions and state law. Since the country’s independence, state laws have drastically diverged, making it impossible to consider the United States to have a single legal system for the vast majority of areas of law that have historically been governed by states. Instead, 50 separate systems of tort law, family law, property law, contract law, criminal law, and other areas of law must be considered instead.

The majority of cases include legal claims and defences based on state statutes and are heard in state courts. State trial courts received 103.5 million newly filed cases in 2010, according to a report from the National Center for State Courts’ Court Statistics Project. These cases included 56.3 million traffic cases, 20.4 million criminal cases, 19.0 million civil cases, 5.9 million domestic relations cases, and 1.9 million cases involving minors. State appellate courts received 272,795 brand-new cases in 2010. In contrast, only around 274,552 new civil cases, 79,787 new criminal cases, and 833,515 new bankruptcy cases were filed with federal district courts in 2016, while 53,649 new cases were filed with federal appellate courts.

Criminal Law and Procedure:

Criminal law deals with the state’s prosecution of wrongdoings that are seen to be so serious that they constitute a breach of the sovereign’s peace (and cannot be deterred or remedied by mere lawsuits between private parties). In general, torts (see below) cannot result in imprisonment, only felonies can. Most crimes committed in the US are investigated, tried, and sentenced at the state level. Federal criminal law focuses on offences that are especially relevant to the federal government, such as failing to pay federal income taxes, mail theft, or physical assaults against federal agents, as well as transnational offences like drug trafficking and wire fraud.

Although the penalty for “greater crimes” (or felonies), such as murder and rape, may differ from state to state, all states have somewhat comparable legislation in this regard. Some states, although not all, permit the death penalty. Repeat offenders are subject to severe punishments under three strikes statutes in some states.

The United States’ system of criminal procedure is composed of a thick layer of federal constitutional case law intertwined with federal and state statutes that actually serve as the framework for the establishment and administration of law enforcement organisations, prison systems, and criminal court proceedings. The federal judiciary gradually established the exclusionary rule as a means of enforcing such rights because legislatures in the U.S. have consistently failed to pass laws that would truly compel law enforcement officials to respect the constitutional rights of criminal suspects and convictions. The Miranda warning is the most well-known of the judge-made remedies for the abuse of law enforcement authority that the exclusionary rule in turn gave rise to.

Civil Procedure:

All judicial proceedings involving litigation between individuals are governed by the law of civil procedure. After New York passed the Field Code in 1850, traditional common law pleading was supplanted by code pleading in 24 states, and during the 20th century, modern notice pleading superseded code pleading once more in the majority of states. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were adopted in 1938, abolishing the traditional English separation between common law and equity courts in federal courts. Nearly all states have likewise separately abolished this division through legislative acts. Of the few remaining equity courts, the Delaware Court of Chancery is the most well-known.

35 states have enacted civil procedural rules that are based on the FRCP (including rule numbers). To account for the reality that state courts have extensive general jurisdiction while federal courts have comparatively less, they had to make certain adjustments.

The three states of the highest significance that have not ratified the FRCP are New York, Illinois, and California. Furthermore, on the grounds that court rules issued by the state supreme court are undemocratic, all three states continue to preserve the majority of their civil procedure legislation in the form of codified statutes passed by the state legislature. But in order to more closely resemble federal civil procedure, national legislatures have changed a few important parts of their civil procedure statutes.

Generally speaking, American civil procedure has a number of distinguishing characteristics, such as thorough pretrial discovery, a reliance on live testimony obtained at depositions or elicited in front of a jury, and aggressive pretrial “law and motion” practise intended to produce a pretrial disposition (that is, summary judgement or a settlement). In contrast to opt-in class actions, which require class members to join the class, U.S. courts invented the opt-out class action, wherein it is the responsibility of class members to inform the court that they do not intend to be bound by the verdict.

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Contract Law:

Contract law governs commitments made by express or inferred agreements between private parties. As a result of the widespread adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code, contract law in transactions involving the sale of products has generally become relatively consistent across the nation. However, depending on how much a state has codified its common law of contracts or accepted elements of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, there is still a great amount of variation in how various types of contracts are interpreted.

It is acceptable for parties to decide to arbitrate disagreements resulting from their contracts. Arbitration clauses are typically enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (which has been interpreted to cover all contracts arising under federal or state law) unless the party opposing arbitration can demonstrate unconscionability, fraud, or another factor that undermines the validity of the entire contract.

Property law:

Due to historical influences from English land law, real property comes first and personal property comes second in American property law. Additionally, it is principally governed by state law, and there is a far greater degree of interstate variety in the law of property than there is in the law of contract and tort. The Uniform Law Commission’s attempt to harmonise state real estate law in the 1970s was a resounding failure. The majority of states administer real estate title using a title recording system (along with privately offered title insurance), though title registration (Torrens title) is also permitted in a tiny minority of states.

Family Law:

Relationships between adults and between parents and their children are governed by family law in the US. In comparison to European family law, American family law is relatively new; it did not take off until the no-fault divorce revolution of the 1960s. American family law is a distinct area of the law deserving of its own specialists and law professors. Before the 1950s, divorces were uncommon, frequently viewed as fact-driven matters (meaning that they were perceived as turning on each case’s facts and not generally applicable legal principles), and infrequently brought up on appeal due to the widespread religious, legal, and social prohibitions against divorce in the United States. Due to the popularity of no-fault divorce, the focus of divorce litigation has shifted from the question of who was to blame for the breakdown of the marriage to concerns like property partition, spousal support, and child support.

Family law cases are typically governed by state law and are almost never heard outside of state courts. Under the “domestic relations exemption” to diverse jurisdiction, federal courts reject to accept family matters, but they will hear certain types of contract, tort, and property civil proceedings involving state law concerns.

Although family law disputes are heard in state courts, there has been a trend for some particular family law concerns to be federalized. Federal income tax and bankruptcy implications of a divorce judgement, as well as federal constitutional rights to abortion and paternity, as well as federal statutes governing interstate child custody disputes and interstate child support enforcement, must all be understood by state courts and the attorneys who appear before them.