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What is a Statute? - Definition & Laws

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  • 0:03 What Is a Statute?
  • 1:26 Interacting with Other Laws
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

What is a statute? Where does a statute come from, and how does it intersect with other types of laws, such as constitutions and case law? Find out the basics about statutes in this lesson.

What Is a Statute?

'You can't do that. It's the law.'

We all know that 'the law' tells us what we can and can't do, and that 'the law' is enforceable by the government. But what is 'the law' exactly? Where does it come from, and what forms does it take? There are a few types of laws, one of which is statutory law, or statutes. How do statutes work, and how do they differ from other sources of law?

A statute, or statutory law, is a law that has been enacted by a legislature, which is the body that has been granted the power by a constitution to enact legislation, or laws. The federal legislature of the United States is the United States Congress. Each state has its own legislature, which enacts laws for that state. Once enacted by the legislature, statutes are signed into law by the chief member of the executive branch - the president for federal statutes and the governor for state statutes. Statutes are drawn together and organized by subject in what are called codes.

Simply put, a statute is a specific statement of the law on a particular issue. For example, a state statute might state that a dog owner is liable for any injury caused if his or her dog bites someone if the owner already knew about the dog's dangerous biting propensity. This state statute would be binding for all citizens of that state.

Interacting with Other Laws

There are a few other types of laws, besides statutes, including constitution and case law. How do statutes differ from these other types of law, and how do they interact? There is a hierarchy of laws, whether it's on the federal level or within a state. The U.S. Constitution has supremacy over all statutes, meaning that a federal or state statute can't be in violation of the Constitution. So, for example, because the U.S. Constitution says that a U.S. senator must be at least 30 years old, that means that Congress cannot enact a law that says that a senator can be younger than 30. Similarly, a state statute cannot be in violation of the constitution of that state.

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