How Laws Are Made and How to Research Them
Executive Orders and Other Presidential Actions
The president creates many documents to issue orders and make announcements. These presidential actions can include executive orders, presidential memoranda, and proclamations.
Find the Latest Executive Orders and Other Presidential Actions
The White House posts the current president's executive orders and other presidential actions.
The Federal Register's online records include executive orders, presidential proclamations, and other documents from the current and recent former presidents. The National Archives' online records include executive orders dating back to 1937.
Learn About the Types of Presidential Actions
An executive order has the power of federal law. Presidents can use executive orders to create committees and organizations. For example, President John F. Kennedy used one to create the Peace Corps. More often, presidents use executive orders to manage federal operations.
Congress may try to overturn an executive order by passing a bill that blocks it. But the president can veto that bill. Congress would then need to override that veto to pass the bill. Also, the Supreme Court can declare an executive order unconstitutional.
Presidential memoranda are like executive orders. The president can use memos to direct government operations. But presidential memos are not numbered when they are published in the Federal Register, as executive orders are.
Presidential proclamations are statements that address the public on policy matters. They are mainly symbolic and are usually not enforced as laws.
How Federal Laws Are Made
Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government and makes laws for the nation. Congress has two legislative bodies or chambers: the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Anyone elected to either body can propose a new law. A bill is a proposal for a new law.
Steps in Making a Law
A bill can be introduced in either chamber of Congress by a senator or representative who sponsors it.
Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee whose members will research, discuss, and make changes to the bill.
The bill is then put before that chamber to be voted on.
If the bill passes one body of Congress, it goes to the other body to go through a similar process of research, discussion, changes, and voting.
Once both bodies vote to accept a bill, they must work out any differences between the two versions. Then both chambers vote on the same exact bill and, if it passes, they present it to the president.
The president then considers the bill. The president can approve the bill and sign it into law or not approve (veto) a bill.
If the president chooses to veto a bill, in most cases Congress can vote to override that veto and the bill becomes a law. But, if the president pocket vetoes a bill after Congress has adjourned, the veto cannot be overridden.
Differences Between the House and Senate Procedures
The Senate and the House have some procedural differences between them. Learn more about each body’s process:
Federal and State Laws, Regulations, and Related Court Decisions
Federal laws apply to people living in the United States and its territories.
Congress creates and passes bills. The president then may sign those bills into law. Federal courts may review the laws to see if they agree with the Constitution. If a court finds a law is unconstitutional, it can strike it down.
Find Federal Laws
The United States Code contains general and permanent federal laws. It does not include regulations, decisions, or laws issued by:
New public and private laws appear in each edition of the United States Statutes at Large. There is a new edition for each session of Congress.
Regulations are issued by federal agencies, boards, and commissions. They explain how agencies plan to carry out laws. Regulations are published yearly in the Code of Federal Regulations.
State Laws and Regulations
State legislatures make the laws in each state. State courts can review these laws. If a court decides a law doesn't agree with the state's constitution, it can declare it invalid.
Find state laws and regulations with the Law Library of Congress’s guide for each state.
Federal Court Decisions
Federal courts do not write or pass laws. But they may establish individual “rights” under federal law. This happens through courts' interpretations of federal and state laws and the Constitution.
An example is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The court decided that state laws which segregated public school students by race violated the 14th Amendment. It said that "separate but equal" schools cause minority children to feel inferior. And that hurts their educational opportunities.
Research recent decisions of the Supreme Court. Or get information about historic Supreme Court decisions by topic.
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Last Updated: August 10, 2022