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Introduction to Law

This guide provides a practical overview to the legal resources at the Highline library and available over the web.

Statutory Law: Definition

Statutory Law is law established by an act of the legislature that is signed by the executive. For federal statutory law, the acts are passed by Congress and signed by the President of the United States. For state law, the acts are passed by the state legislature and signed by the state governor. In rare circumstances, the executive (President or governor) may refuse to sign the bill or reject it, which is known as a “veto.” When this happens, the legislature (Congress at the federal level) can override the veto with a two/third majority of votes.

Statutory Codes

The statutes of the United States at the federal level are found in the United States Code. Also, each state has its own state statutes, found in state codes. For Washington State, this is called the Revised Code of Washington. Cities and counties have their own codes (i.e. King County Code, Seattle Municipal Code), which are passed by city or county councils. At these levels, instead of statutes, the set of laws, rules, and regulations are called “ordinances.”

Statutes are arranged by titles. Individual titles can consist of one or more print volumes. For example, Title 42 of the United States Code, dealing with Public Health and Welfare, consists of over 35 printed volumes. Title 9A (the criminal code) of the Revised Code of Washington is one volume.

Pocket Parts

To update the code books when new laws are passed, pocket parts, small paper updates that slide into “pockets” in the back of the books, are used. Pocket parts are themselves updated until a new edition of the book is published. In checking the printed code books, it is important not to forget to check the pocket parts for updates to the statutes.

Reading Statute Citations

Statutes are broadly arranged by title, then chapter, then section.  For the United States Code, chapters are often not included in the citations, as the example below indicates.

Note: sometimes you will see RCWA as the abbreviation to the Revised Code of Washington. The “A” is short for “annotated” and means that a company has published the code and added explanatory notes to the statutes. This is still considered a primary law source.

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Note: sometimes you will see USCS as the abbreviation to the United States Code.  This stands for “United States Code Service” and is the version of the United States Code published by the LexisNexis company.