Federal Laws and Regulations
Federal laws generally apply to people living in the United States and its territories.
Congress creates and passes bills. The President then signs those bills into law. Federal courts may review these laws and strike them down if they think they do not agree with the U.S. Constitution.
Find Federal Laws
The United States Code contains the general and permanent federal laws of the United States. It does not include regulations, decisions, or laws issued by:
- Federal agencies
- Federal courts
- State and local governments
New public and private laws are published in each edition of the United States Statutes at Large.
Regulations are issued by federal agencies, boards, or commissions. They explain how agencies intend to carry out laws. Regulations are published yearly in The Code of Federal Regulations.
The Rulemaking Process
Federal regulations are created through a process known as rulemaking. If an agency wants to make, change, or delete a rule, the agency will publish the proposal in the Federal Register and seek public comments.
After the agency considers the public's comments and changes the rule if necessary, it publishes the rule’s final version in the Federal Register, along with a description of the comments received, the agency’s response to those comments, and the date the rule goes into effect.
Federal Court Decisions
Although federal courts do not write or pass laws, they may establish individual “rights” under federal law through their interpretations of federal and state laws and the U.S. Constitution. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka held that state laws which segregated public school students by race were unconstitutional, because they violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In striking down those state laws, the Supreme Court determined that “separate but equal” educational facilities instilled a sense of inferiority in minority children that undermined their educational opportunities.
Research decisions of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts in the Law Library of Congress.
State Laws and Regulations
State legislatures make the laws in each state. State courts may review these laws and remove them if they think they do not agree with the state's constitution.
Find state laws and regulations with the Law Library of Congress’s guide for each state.
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Executive Orders and Other Presidential Actions
The President can issue a variety of documents to direct the work of government officials and agencies, and to inform the public about issues that are important to him or her.
These Executive or Presidential actions can include:
- Executive Orders
- Presidential Memoranda
An Executive order is a Presidential action that has the power of a federal law. Presidents might issue Executive orders to create committees or organizations like the Peace Corps. In general, though, Presidents use Executive orders to direct and manage how the federal government operates.
Congress may attempt to overturn an Executive order by passing legislation that opposes the order. However, the President can veto that bill, and Congress would then need to override that veto to pass the bill. Also, the Supreme Court can declare an Executive order to be unconstitutional.
Presidential memoranda are similar to Executive orders. The President can use memoranda to direct the actions of the federal government. However, Executive orders must be numbered and published in the Federal Register. Presidential memoranda do not have that requirement.
Presidential proclamations are written statements that speak directly to the public on matters of policy important to the President. They are primarily symbolic and are usually not enforced as laws on their own.
Find Presidential Actions
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains text of Executive orders from former Presidents since 1937.
You can find additional information about Executive orders from NARA.
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