OASIS Mailing List ArchivesView the OASIS mailing list archive below
or browse/search using MarkMail.


Help: OASIS Mailing Lists Help | MarkMail Help

legaldocml message

[Date Prev] | [Thread Prev] | [Thread Next] | [Date Next] -- [Date Index] | [Thread Index] | [List Home]

Subject: Some general resources on the US Code


Here is some background on the peculiarities of the American Federal legislative process -- or rather, on what happens after it is passed. You may want to take a look at my e-mail to the group of a few months back, outlining in very broad brush the differences between the US and everybody else. To recap, everybody else passes an Act, and subsequent legislation is written to refer to that Act if in some way it modifies it; at some point, the accumulated changes are consolidated into a new version of the Act and the consolidated Act is re-passed by the legislature. No doubt that is a very naive summary, but that is how it looks from the distant perspective of a place that was never ruled by Napoleon ;). We, on the other hand, have a "Code" that is a topically-arranged compilation of legislation passed by the legislature as bills, acts, statutes, or public laws (the terms are pretty much interchangeable). The compilation may be considered the ultimate evidence of the law, or it may not, depending on which of 51 Titles we are talking about. Titles which have been cleaned up by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC or LRC) and re-passed in that form by Congress are referred to as "positive law Titles".

The general outlines of the codification process are pretty well described in the wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_states_code , as is its progress. There are significant numbers of non-positive-law Titles.

For the moment (maybe for quite a few moments) let's not concern ourselves with what goes on prior to passage.

There are some things to think about, already, in terms of OLRC's process. It's important to note that there are two streams of activity. First, there is the routine compilation of new laws passed by Congress into the Code, a process known as "classification". Second, there is the ongoing editorial activity of cleaning up non-positive law Titles and preparing them for adoption by Congress as positive law. Yes, there is some competition between those two processes, and yes, I imagine that sometimes this leaves the folks at OLRC trying to hit a moving target. I think most of Grant's remarks yesterday were probably directed at the latter process, but it's important to note that Congress does not stop passing laws while a non-positive-law Title is undergoing cleanup (somehow, the image of the "closed for cleaning" sign that you would find outside an airport restroom is intruding into my mind, and I must make it stop).

As to the classification process, OLRC publishes a number of handy things you can look at to get a general idea of what the activity is like:

a) The classification tables are summaries of all compilation decisions made within a given time frame, organized by Public Law (statute) number and US Code section. See http://uscodebeta.house.gov/classification/tbl112pl_2nd.htm (this will also get you to the OLRC site, a valuable resource for all things codification). We use these to drive a number of features on our web site, notably the Updates tab for US Code sections. An example that takes in the recent changes that implicate 42 USC 301 (aka the Social Security Act) is at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/chapter-7?quicktabs_8=3#quicktabs-8 . The

b) The Table of Popular Names maps popular names of Acts (the "Social Security Act" ) to the Statutes at Large and to the USC. See, eg., http://www.law.cornell.edu/topn/S , where you'll find the Social Security Act and a bunch of amending acts some distance down the page. Note that it points to something called the short title, which for some reason we have not linked (need to see to that).

c) US Code subdivisions -- sections, or bigger, vaguely fictional aggregations called Parts, Chapters, Subchapters, etc -- usually contain an associated Notes section documenting amendments since the beginning of time; take a look at the Notes tab at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/1305 . This is not a particularly interesting one. A more readable and indicative example is at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/chapter-7/subchapter-IX . Sometimes, the "short title" notes for a section contain a roadmap for classification of the entire Act of which that section is a part, as well.

d) However, the best way to answer the question, "how did that Act get classified"? is to look at Table 3 or Table 1. The two are used together. Table 3 records the original classification decisions made; you can see an example entry for a Public Law at http://uscode.house.gov/table3/112_17.htm , which documents the fate of Public Law 112-17,the 17th law passed by the 112th Congress. Note that Statutes at Large references are given by page number, which houses its own platoon of devils. Table 1 documents the mapping of non-positive law sections of the US Code to new section numbers in the positive-law version of any Title that has, in fact, been passed into positive law. Normally these are applied seriatim -- you look first to Table 3 to see what was done with your PL section initially, then to Table 1 to find out what happened when, if ever, the Title was passed into positive law. This sort of thing has convinced your humble scribe that the United States Congress should be investing more than it is in triplestores, but that is a matter for another day.

Incidentally, it remains unclear to me whether Table 3 provides a complete "tracing record" of the fate of a particular provision. It definitely records the initial classification decision. But then sometimes things get moved around inside the Code. For example, Title 6 (previously a repealed Title having to do with something else) was revived a few years back, and redesignated as the container for all things having to do with the Department of Homeland Security. A whole lot of stuff was plucked from all over the Code and stuck in there, basically tracking the changes in the government org chart that occurred when DHS was formed. I don't think that Table 3 addresses that -- it surely records the original classification decisions regarding all the stuff that was only later moved into Title 6, but it surely does not record the subsequent move into Title 6, and I doubt that it was revised to re-target the original classification decision to whereever the provision in question ultimately ended up.

With apologies to Fabio for using the word "mapping", the next rant I send out will have a few words to say about Table 3 and the essence of what is found there. Because it is really, really confusing and needs treatment in its own right. Also, I have something ready to hand that was done for a joint study that sort of illuminates the issues, and I am skilled at cut-and-paste.

A final point: So far as I know, there are no real controls on what "coordinate" or "address" system is used in amending language in new legislation (in that context, it is important to remember that nothing constrains new legislation to pass through either the House or Senate Office of Legislative Counsel, aka HOLC and SOLC. If Representative Fathead of West Overshoe, NY wants to write his bill in crayon on a cocktail napkin and drop it in the hopper for consideration by the House of Representatives of these great United States (God save them!), he may do so. And does.). It is likely that HOLC and SOLC have higher standards for what they do. But I think that much of the time you'd find that amending language is expressed any old way; possibly in terms of titles, sections and paragraphs of the original Act, and sometimes in terms of sections and subsections of the as-codified version in the US Code.

Oh, and while we're at it: Titles in the original Act have nothing to do with Titles in the US Code. Also, the named aggregation levels within the Code that occur between the section level and the level of the full Title have a naming scheme that varies from Title to Title -- they all use the same terms (subtitle, chapter, subchapter, part), but a given Title may not use the full set, and the names may correspond to different levels in the topical hierarchy depending on which Title you're talking about. In terms of formal citation, these "supersections" (as we call them in my shop) are fictional; citation is always by title and section, eg. 42 USC 301. This leads to some interesting practices -- you will find the Note accompanying Chapter 7 of Title 42, which is the Social Security Act, referred to in the classification tables and other OLRC-speak as the "Note preceding 42 USC 301". 42 USC 301 is the first section in Chapter 7.

Isn't this fun?

More later,

Thomas R. Bruce @trbruce
Director, Legal Information Institute
Cornell Law School
http://www.law.cornell.edu/ @liicornell

[Date Prev] | [Thread Prev] | [Thread Next] | [Date Next] -- [Date Index] | [Thread Index] | [List Home]