Identify and describe the four main sources of American law.

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Statutes and ordinances: These are rules passed by legislative bodies, such as Congress, on the federal level or through state legislatures, as well as municipal and county governments. They encompass everything from such issues as what substances can be legally bought and sold, to how fast you can drive, from...

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Statutes and ordinances: These are rules passed by legislative bodies, such as Congress, on the federal level or through state legislatures, as well as municipal and county governments. They encompass everything from such issues as what substances can be legally bought and sold, to how fast you can drive, from how you can buy, sell, and treat animals, to workplace safety.

Constitutional law: The main backbone of United States Law is the Constitution, which sets out in broad strokes the roles and power structures of different parts of governments, the basic rights and freedoms of individuals, and the limits on the powers of the government. As well as the overarching US Constitution, there are also individual state constitutions. 

Administrative law: Administrative law defines rules and procedures of various government agencies. It focuses less on what is done than how it is done. The right to freedom of speech in enshrined in the Constitution, but the number of days you have to file a complaint about an infraction, or the specific forms you might need to fill out in order to file an infraction, are administrative matters. 

Common law: Common law refers to precedents that are taken into account in future decisions. Although "common laws" are not formal laws per se, many judges feel that the history of decisions, especially Supreme Court ones, are important in interpreting other forms of law. 

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There are several sources of American law. These include the Constitution, statutes, judicial opinions, and administrative regulations.

State and national constitutions are plans of government. These documents indicate what the government may and may not do. These documents also spell out the structure of the government.

Statutes are laws. The legislative branch creates them. Members of the legislative branch must vote on a statute in order for it to become law. Then, the chief executive must approve it.

Judicial opinions influence laws. Laws are often written in a very broad manner. As a result, there is often uncertainty regarding how to interpret a law. Sometimes, the courts need to clarify the meaning of a law. This is done in a judicial opinion.

Finally, administrative regulations are a source of laws. Administrative agencies often issue rules regarding how to enforce a law. The legislative branch often gives the executive branch the power to develop these rules. It should be noted that the legislative branch could remove this power by legislative action.

There are several sources of American law.

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In the United States’ legal system, there are four main sources of law.  These are constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, and case law. 

  • Constitutions are the laws that establish systems of government (state or federal).  They set out the limits of what governments can and cannot do.  Within any state, the constitution overrides any law that contradicts it.  The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no law (including a state constitution) can violate it.
  • Statutes are what we often think of as law.  These are the laws passed by legislative bodies.  Congress passes statutes that apply to the country as a whole, state legislatures pass state laws, and local legislatures (often called city councils) pass laws that apply only to their own localities.
  • Administrative regulations are rules that are written by agencies of the executive branch.  These government agencies have the authority to write rules because the legislatures give it to them.  These agencies’ employees are supposed to be experts who will be better at writing detailed rules than the legislators are.  Any administrative regulation can be overridden and repealed by the legislature.
  • Case law consists of decisions and opinions issued by courts in various legal cases.  Courts are asked to interpret the laws.  When they do so, their opinions as to what the laws mean help to shape the law.  For example, the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage shaped the law to say that the Constitution recognizes a right to such marriages.
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