What are Sources of Law?

Laws are the rules of conduct established to maintain justice and stability in our communities. They provide ways for our society to live in peace and harmony whilst ensuring disputes are civilly handled.

Every country around the world has its own legal system and set of procedures they follow. 

These sets of rules, regulations, and laws all derive from something known as the sources of law. Here in the U.S, there are four primary sources of law.

They are the United States Constitution, federal and state statutes, administrative regulations, and case law. Understanding what the sources of law are and how they affect our society can be difficult to make sense of. 

With there being so much information to take in it can be hard to understand what it does and what it means.

Today, in this article we hope to make things a little clearer for you by taking a look at what sources of law are and what that means in the U.S. With some forms of law being around for over 1,000 years we better dive straight in.

What are sources of law?

Sources of law is a legal term that refers to the authorities by which law is made. They are the origins of law and the binding rules that enable a state to govern.

The term source of law may also refer to the “sovereign or seat of power from which the law derives its validity”.

There are a variety of sources that are used to define the creation of law, though not all are used the same. Some examples of sources include government regulation, court decisions, and legislation.

Another common source of law is a common law that has been used for nearly 1,000 years. Common law is a type of law based on judges’ decisions and legislation that deems an action illegal. 

As we mentioned above the U.S has many sources of law that impact society. The four we will focus on in this article are the sources of law at the state and federal levels.

These are the United States Constitution, federal and state statutes, administrative regulations, and case law. If it wasn’t for these sources of law the U.S would have little control and rule. These laws help protect the nation and assist in the running of a well-functioning society. 

The United States Constitution

The Constitutions are the most fundamental of the sources of law. Each country’s legal system has its own sources of law but for those systems to work there needs to be a Constitution. 

The United States Constitution is our “supreme law of the land”. Everything within it is unbreakable. All other sources of law draw from the Constitution which shows exactly why it is often referred to as the “ultimate” source of law. State statutes, federal statutes, judicial opinions, and administrative laws must all follow and comply with the Constitution’s rules and regulations. 

Written in 1787 the U.S Constitution has always been internationally recognized for its groundbreaking nature. It sets both the rules for the functioning of the United States and outlines the fundamental rights and freedom every U.S citizen has. 

The Constitution also explains the power and responsibility of the government and provides key guidance on how the government should be organized. Without the Constitution, our society would not be like it is today.

Our laws, politics, cultures, and beliefs would all be changed affecting everyone’s individual lives. There is a high probability that if the U.S Constitution was never written America would be split into much smaller sections. 

Federal and State Statutes

Federal and state legislation is arguably the second most important source of law in the U.S. Federal statutes are more commonly referred to as statutory laws. The United States Congress enacts statutory laws that apply to all 50 states.

A good example of a federal law that impacts every U.S state is the Clean Air Act. This is a federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile pollution sources. As it is a federal law this applies to every stationary and mobile source of air pollution in every U.S state.

Statutory laws are passed during legislative sessions before being published in the United States code. The United States Code is broken down into titles depending on what subject is being tackled. 

State statutes are enacted by state legislatures and apply to just one state. Though they regulate the activity within that one state, they must also give way to federal statutes to prevent any conflict. 

Having state and federal statutes protects our general safety, and ensures the rights of every citizen across the U.S. 

Administrative Regulations

Administrative regulations are a set of rules and regulations issued by federal or state administrative agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency and Internal Revenue Service are two great examples of this source of law. 

The regulations set out by these administrative agencies provide the rules for how a law should be applied and when it should be enforced. The agencies receive authority to regulate and develop rules from Congress, via an act called “enabling”. This grants permission and defines the scope of its authority. 

Administrative regulations are developed through two types of rulemaking. They are informal and formal. Under formal rulemaking, an agency proposes a rule. The public then submits comments and beliefs before the agency then decides how to set the final rule. 

Under formal rulemaking, administrative agencies can issue regulations after meeting certain requirements that meet the Administrative Procedure Act. Formal rulemaking can come with big costs and take a lot longer. 

Case Law

This source of law is also commonly referred to as Judge-made law or common law. With this type of law, legislatures write broader statutes and allow judges to interpret the meanings of the law to apply it to a specific case they are working on that involves real people and businesses. 

Once a court has reached a decision, the opinion becomes precedent and must be applied in subsequent factual scenarios. If a court uses rulings from prior cases to reach a decision, it is “abiding by the principle of stare decisis”. Stare decisis promotes the predictable application of the laws. 

The federal court system also uses trial courts and appellate courts. The trial courts are also called “district” courts. Appellate courts are courts in which a decision can be appealed. These courts are also regularly referred to as circuit courts. An appealed case may be taken to the United States Supreme Court

Final Thoughts

The United States has had a legal system for over two centuries with its systems and model being well received around the world by other countries who wish to develop a unique and strong set of laws. Sources of law are what bind our communities together and provide us with a safe world to live in. If it wasn’t for the authorities that created our first laws the world wouldn’t be anything like it is today. 

In the U.S the most important source of law is the United States Constitution. If it wasn’t for the U.S Constitution the U.S would be a split nation in disarray with everybody following their own set of laws. This source of law as well as the others in this article blend together nicely to create a safe, positive way of life where individuals can live in harmony with each other and resolve disputes fairly and appropriately. 

It is fair to say that in the future we can expect to see more sources of law developed as the U.S changes. If they are anything like the laws we have now, we can assume they will be designed to better the lives of every citizen, providing us with more rights.