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Law of the United States

The law of the United States is derived from the common law of England, which was in force at the time of the Revolutionary War. However, the supreme law of the land in the United States is the United States Constitution and, per the Constitution, treaties to which the U.S. is a party. These form the basis for federal laws under the federal constitution in the United States circumscribing the boundaries of the jurisdiction of federal law and the laws in the fifty U.S. states and territories.

Federal law in the United States originates with the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to enact statutes for certain limited purposes like regulating commerce. Nearly all statutes have been codified in the United States Code. Many statutes give executive branch agencies the power to create regulations, which are published in the Code of Federal Regulations and also carry the force of law. Many lawsuits turn on the meaning of a federal statute or regulation, and judicial interpretations of such meaning carry legal force under the principle of stare decisis.

As for state law in the United States, American states are separate sovereigns with their own constitutions and retain the power to make laws covering anything not preempted by the federal Constitution or federal statutes. Although nearly all of them started with the same English common law base, the passage of time has resulted in enormous diversity in the laws of the fifty states. Efforts at creating "uniform" state laws have been only partially successful; the most famous examples are the Uniform Commercial Code and the Model Penal Code . Furthermore, states have delegated lawmaking powers to a staggering number of agencies, counties, cities, and special district s. And all the state constitutions, statutes and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation like their federal counterparts.

Unlike the rest of the country, state law in Louisiana is based on the Napoleonic Code, inherited from its time as a French colony. Puerto Rico is also a civil law jurisdiction. However, the criminal law of both jurisdictions has been necessarily modified by common law influences and the supremacy of the federal Constitution.

California is a common law jurisdiction with a few features borrowed from the civil law, like a community property system for the property of married persons and statutory law that has been codified into a system of named codes (Health and Safety Code, Vehicle Code, and so on).

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Last updated: 12-31-2004 12:09:52