Statutory Law: Purpose & Creation

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  • 0:01 Statutory Law Defined
  • 2:28 How Statutes Are…
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson will cover how laws, also known as statutes, come into creation and become collectively known as statutory law. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

Statutory Law Defined

You'd be amazed to find out just how many laws you come into contact with on any given day. When you woke up and had breakfast, the food you ate was subject to strict regulations and safety laws. The house or apartment you woke up in most likely has a contract that makes it legally binding for you to have to pay a rent or mortgage payment. And the moment you got into your car to drive someplace, about a dozen more laws were added. With all these laws affecting us, we might start to wonder why we need so many. The answer might seem obvious, but it still bears mentioning.

For our purposes, let's first define a law as a rule that is passed down by a controlling authority that has binding legal force and carries consequences of punishment if it is not followed. In the United States, our federal, state, and local governments are all controlling authorities, so they are the ones that create the rules we are to follow. Furthermore, the purpose of laws is to promote justice and prevent harm. In other words, laws are not meant to encourage good.

The laws that govern your driving aren't meant to help you be a better driver, but rather are there to make sure you don't hurt yourself or others. The distinction is subtle but important. In other words, we must think of laws as 'don't do this or else,' rather than 'please do this, so that...' Furthermore, all of the laws that are passed by a legislature are collectively known as its statutory law. So, all of the rules we just mentioned that you come into contact with on a daily basis would all fall under statutory law as would any other type of rule or law you can imagine.

In the United States, we have a legislature known as Congress that passes a variety of acts into law that become statutory law. These acts are designated as public laws or private laws. Public laws relate to the general public on the whole. Laws that govern how you drive a car apply to everyone and would be an example of a public law. Conversely, private laws relate to specific institutions or individuals. An example might be a law only applying to the meat industry that ensures that your bacon is safe to eat in the morning. Most of the laws passed by Congress, however, are public laws.

How Statutes are Created and Passed

In the United States, there's a definite process for how a statute becomes a legally binding law. While individual states and local municipalities have slightly different ways of creating statutes than the federal government, they still adhere to the same basic principles.

So let's say the federal government wanted to ban making fake Weather Bureau reports. Let's assume that this is important because people need to know when to bring an umbrella with them, and it may be unsafe if severe weather is in the area and people thought otherwise. By the way, this example really does exist as a federal statute. Nevertheless, step one is to have someone in either the House of Representatives or the Senate draft a bill, or potential law, that says it shall be illegal to file a fake Weather Bureau report.

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