Statute in the United States

Law enacted by the legislative branch of government. Statutes are enacted by legislatures under power authorized and means prescribed by federal and state constitutions. Resolutions adopted by legislative bodies are not considered statutes. Law adopted by government at the local level is typically called an ordinance rather than a statute. Statutes may be either public or private. A public or general statute establishes a policy that applies to everyone. A private or special statute, on the other hand, is directed at particular persons or classes. A private bill, for example, could deal with a citizenship matter or land title of a particular individual. When a legislative body enacts a private law, it is often required to make an almost judicial determination in order to resolve the private issue. Statutes may be either mandatory or directory in character. A mandatory statute requires a particular action while a directory statute leaves compliance optional. In other words, a directory statute offers mere direction, and there is no consequence for failure to take the direction. (1)

Analysis and Relevance

Statutes are enacted for a variety of reasons. Among these are to define criminal conduct and establish penalties for violations, to appropriate public funds, or to create administrative agencies. Statutes are the major source of positive law, or law reflective of the will of the legislative majority. Statutes can essentially provide for anything so long as they do not conflict with constitutional law. Courts may, through the exercise of judicial review, determine if a statute is incompatible with constitutional provisions. Those statutes that are found in conflict are nullified. More likely, courts will be asked to render interpretations of what statutory provisions mean. This process of statutory construction clarifies law through application and fills in any gaps that may exist in the general provisions of a statute. Statutes are compiled and codified on a subject matter basis. Currently applicable federal law is found in the United States Code, which is regularly supplemented and revised. (2)

Statute International Definition

A law established by the act of the legislative power; an act of the legislature; the written will of the legislature, solemnly expressed according to the forms necessary to constitute it the law of the state. This word is used to designate the written law, in contradistinction to the unwritten law. Among the civilians, the term ”statute is generally applied to laws and regulations of every sort. Every provision of law which ordains, permits, or prohibits anything is designated a statute, without considering from what source it arises. Sometimes the word is used in contradistinction from the imperial Roman law, which, by way of eminence, civilians call the common law. In Old Common Law. A bond or obligation of record. (This definition of Statute is based on the Cyclopedic Law Dictionary. This definition of Statute may need to be proofread).

Classification (according to the Cyclopedic Law Dictionary):
(1) An affirmative statute is one which is enacted in afiirmative terms. Such a statute does not necessarily take away the common law. 2 Inst. 200; Dwarr. St. 474. If, for example, a statute without negative words declares that, when certain requisites shall have been complied with, deeds shall have a certain effect as evidence, this does not prevent their being used in evidence, though the requisites have not been complied with, in the same manner as they might have been before the statute was passed. 2 Caines (N. Y.) 169. Nor does such an affirmative statute repeal a precedent statute if the two can both be given effect. Dwarr. St. 474.
(2) A declaratory statute is one which is passed in order to put an end to a doubt as to what is the common law or the meaning of another statute, and which declares what it is and ever has been.
(3) A negative statute is one expressed in negative terms, and so controls the common law that it has no force in opposition to the statute. Bac. Abr. Statute (G).
(4) Penal statutes are those which command or prohibit a thing under a certain penalty. Const. Law. A statute affixing a penalty to an act, though it does not in words prohibit it, thereby makes it illegal.
(5) Mandatory statutes are such as. imperatively require compliance.
(6) Directory statutes are such as may be violated without invalidating the acts done in violation of it.
(7) Permissive statutes are those which allow something without requiring it.
(8) A perpetual statute is one for the continuance of which there is no limited time, although it be not expressly declared to be so. If a statute which did not itself contain any limitation is to be governed by another which is temporary only, the former will also be temporary and dependent upon the existence of the latter, Bac. Abr. Statute (D).
(9) A temporary statute is one Which is limited In its duration at the time of its enactment. It continues in force until the time of its limitation has expired, unless sooner repealed. A statute which by reason of its nature, has only a single and temporary operation e. g., an appropriation bill is also called a temporary statute. The most ancient English statute extant is Magna Charta. Formerly the statutes enacted after the beginning of the reign of Edw. III. were called Nova Statuta, or new statutes, to distinguish them from the ancient statutes. The modern English statutes are divided into public general acts, local and personal acts declared public, private acts printed, and private acts not printed. In parliamentary practice are adopted other distinctions, resting upon different grounds.
(10) A remedial statute is one made to supply such defects and abridge such superfluities in the common law as may have been discovered. 1 Bl. Comm. 86. These remedial statutes are themselves divided into (a) Enlarging statutes, by which the common law is made more comprehensive and extended than it was before, and into (b) Restraining statutes, by which it is narrowed down to that which is just and proper. The term remedial statute is also applied to those acts which give the party injured a remedy, and in some respects such statutes are penal. Espinasse. Pen. Act. 1.
(11) Public statutes are those which affect the public at large, whether their operation be throughout the state, or in a particular locality.
(12) Private statutes are such as affect in a peculiar manner certain persons or classes. By the civilians, statutes are considered as real, personal, or mixed.
(1) Mixed statutes are those which concern at once both persons and property; but in this sense almost all statutes are mixed, there being scarcely any law relative to persons which does not at the same time relate to things.
(2) Personal statutes are those which have principally for their object the person, and treat ‘of property only incidentally. Such are those which regard birth, legitimacy, freedom, the right of instituting suits, majority as to age, incapacity to contract, to make a will, to plead in person, and the like. A personal statute is universal in its operation, and in force everywhere.
(3) Real statutes are those which have principally for their object property, and vfhich do not speak of persons except in relation to property. Story, Confl. Laws, § 13. Such are those which concern the disposition which one may make of his property either alive or by testament. A leal statute, unlike a personal one, is confined in its operation to the country of its origin.

Read more definitions about Statute in the Law Dictionaries here.

Statute Definition in the Legislative Process

The following is a definition of Statute, by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL): A formal enactment of the legislature of a more permanent nature. The term “statute” is used to designate written law, as distinguished from unwritten law.

Statutes and Contract Provisions in Legal Writing

by Howard Posner

Statutes should be informative, not mysterious and infuriating.

Many statutes and contract provisions try to do their jobs in a single sentence. A good many of those sentences inexplicably set out exceptions and qualifications before getting to the point, but this one did all that without imparting actual information. Instead, it told where the information could be discovered by someone able to discern from its tortured syntax which listed substances are exceptions and which are exceptions to the exceptions; it was not so much a statute as a sort of mystical index. (…)

I suppose there’s a theoretical advantage in having a statute’s substance contained only in other statutes: It’s automatically amended when those other statutes are amended. The reality is that this doesn’t work. Section 11378’s very first reference is to Business and Professions Code Division 2, Chapter 9, Article 7, “commencing with Section 4211.” There is no Business and Professions Code section 4211. I’m guessing it did exist once but got repealed or changed to something else, leaving section 11378 high and dry and leaving my narcocapitalist friend unsure whether it instead refers to the current division 2, chapter 9, article 7, which comprises sections 4110 through 4126.5 and deals with the licensing of pharmacists and their duties.

Statute in Foreign Legal Encyclopedias

Link Description
Statute Statute in the World Legal Encyclopedia.
Statute Statute in the European Legal Encyclopedia.
Statute Statute in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia.
Statute Statute in the UK Legal Encyclopedia.
Statute Statute in the Australian Legal Encyclopedia.

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Plain-English Law

A written law passed by Congress or a state legislature –Statute as defined by Nolo’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (p. 437-455)- and signed into law by the president or a state governor.

Meaning of Statute

In plain or simple terms, Statute means: A law enacted by legislature, as distinguished from case law.

Basic Meaning of Statute

Statute means: a law enacted by a federal or state legislative body

Statute Background


Notes and References

  1. Definition of Statute from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California
  2. Id.

See Also

Further Reading (Articles)

Statutes of Limitations for Personal Income Tax Returns, The CPA Journal; January 1, 2014; Griffith, Andrew S. Kinkela, Katherine A.

Statute of Limitations and Amendment of Claim, Mondaq Business Briefing; September 13, 2013; Mentes, Dilek Sule

Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Critique, Social Justice; December 22, 1999; Teitelbaum, Alejandro

Super-Statutes, Duke Law Journal; March 1, 2001; Eskridge, William N., Jr. Ferejohn, John

Statute of Limitations, American Law Yearbook 2008; January 1, 2009

Determining the Statute of Limitations in Federal Tax Cases, The CPA Journal; August 1, 2006; Breakfield, Robert H. Alvis, Charles E.

French Blocking Statute: A Death Foretold?, Mondaq Business Briefing; February 12, 2014; Akyurek, Ozan

When do statutes of limitations apply in arbitration?, Florida Bar Journal; October 1, 2007; Weintraub, David A.

Beware of the borrowing statute; time may run out. (statute of limitations; includes related article on state borrowing statutes), Trial; June 1, 1995; Hansen, Barry C.

ALJ Confirms Illinois Statute Of Limitations Period Is Three Years From Automatic Extension Of Time For Filing Return.(Illinois administrative law judge ), Mondaq Business Briefing; December 13, 2011

Public Access to Statutes Limited by Missouri, St. Louis Journalism Review; February 1, 1995; Sableman, Mark

The Federal Debt Priority Statute: A Little-known Law with Serious Consequences, American Bankruptcy Institute Journal; September 1, 2008; Stosberg, Andrew D

Legal Malpractice Statutes of Limitation: Overview and Pennsylvania Case Study, Defense Counsel Journal; October 1, 2010; Christof, Joseph S. D., II Farrar, Brett W. Flynn, Michael P.

North Carolina Extends Statute Of Repose For Product Defects To Twelve Years.(Report), Mondaq Business Briefing; November 19, 2009; Jones, Jeremy

Identity Theft Statutes: Which Will Protect Americans the Most?, Albany Law Review; June 22, 2004; Pastrikos, Catherine

Procrastination, Deadlines, and Statutes of Limitation, William and Mary Law Review; November 1, 2008; Wistrich, Andrew J.

Promoting or Frustrating the Statute of Frauds? Implications from Holman V. Childersburg Bancorporation, Inc, Jones Law Review; January 1, 2004; Franks, Johnni L.

Opinion : A Statute for Mutual Insurance Firms: Towards Eu Recognition?, European Social Policy; January 17, 2007

State Courts and the Interpretation of Federal Statutes, Vanderbilt Law Review; October 1, 2006; Bellia, Anthony J., Jr.

Understanding Hate Crime Statutes and Building towards a Better System in Texas, American Journal of Criminal Law; April 1, 2013; Gillis, Ben

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Statute in the Context of Law Research

The Thurgood Marshall School of Law Library defined briefly Statute as: A legislative enacted law which has been codified and integrated into an official code such as the United States Code or the North Carolina General Statutes.Legal research resources, including Statute, help to identify the law that governs an activity and to find materials that explain that law.

Statute in the context of Juvenile and Family Law

Definition ofStatute, published by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: A law enacted by a state legislature or the U.S. Congress.

Statute Definition in the context of the Federal Court System

A law passed by a legislature.

Statute: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Statute. This part provides references, in relation to Statute, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Statute by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Statute and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Statute or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Statute and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Statute. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Statute should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Statute when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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1 thought on “Statute”

  1. John Hamilton

    “Its automatically amended when those other statutes are amended”? Not so fast. You have neglected the famous (at least to me) Palermo doctrine: If a statute incorporates another by specific reference, it incorporates it as it exists at the time of incorporation, and not as it may be later modified. (Palermo v. Stockton Theatres, Inc. (1948) 32 Cal. 2d 53, 58-59.) So while B&P 4211 may not be found in the B&P, it lives on in H&S 11378. That means, of course, that one cannot figure out what 11378 means without having a copy of the B&P from 1985–“mysterious and infuriating” indeed.

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