What Is Statutory Law? - Definition, Cases & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:36 Federal Statutory Laws
  • 1:25 State and Local Statutory Laws
  • 1:45 Case Example
  • 3:20 Other Examples
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

After you complete this lesson, you will be able to identify and understand what constitutes a statutory law. Moreover, you will review a significant Supreme Court case related to the subject and review some examples of statutory laws.

Definition

Let's say you are driving on a highway where the posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour. However, you are in a rush, so you decide to go 70 miles per hour. A police officer pulls you over, and you are given a citation for violating the speed limit. You have broken a vehicle and traffic law. This law is established by legislature as a statute, or a law that is formally written and enacted. As a result, the law you broke was a statutory law.

Federal Statutory Laws

Laws that are enacted by the U.S. Congress are federal statutory laws. A federal statutory law is introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate as a public law bill. The bill will be reviewed in special committee, considered with hearings and subjected to debates. These activities help to make sure that the law is valid and acceptable. After review, the House and Senate will vote on the statute. If the law is approved, it will be presented to the President, who can either disapprove (known as a veto) or approve the law. Thereafter, the law will be given a formal number and title and will be published in the United States Code legal books.

State and Local Statutory Laws

Similar to federal statutory laws, state and local governments make their own statutory laws. These laws follow a similar process to the aforementioned federal statutory law enactment process, including committee evaluation, hearings and debate.

Case Example

Federal, state and local statutory laws must be constitutional. A failure to abide by the U.S. Constitution will result in a law becoming overturned, or reversed. One case that resulted in the declaration that a statutory law was unconstitutional was Lawrence v. Texas. In this 2003 Supreme Court case, the Court struck down a Texas sodomy law. Moreover, because Supreme Court rulings are extended to state laws, this ruling resulted in 13 additional state laws that deemed similar statutory laws unconstitutional.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Statutory Law:

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Make a graphic organizer that depicts how a federal statutory law is passed.

Example: A flow chart may work best here. Use all the vocabulary from the lesson, including public law bill, veto, and codified.

Essay Prompt 1:

In at least a paragraph, write an essay in which you describe how state and local statutes are passed.

Example: Consider the similarities between the federal and state levels.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of a paragraph or two that defines statutory law and provides at least one example of a statutory law.

Example: Your state's legislature passed a statute that prohibits spitting in public. If caught doing so, you could be issued a ticket.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay of several paragraphs in which you explain the role of the Supreme Court in monitoring statutory laws.

Example: Consider that a statutory law must be constitutional, and explain under what grounds the Supreme Court could overturn a law. Consider the equal protection clause of the Constitution as well.

List Prompt 1:

Make a list of the common topics of statutory laws whose constitutionality is frequently challenged.

Tip: The lesson provides the example of state abortion laws, but try to come up with topics on your own. The lesson suggests watching the nightly news for ideas.

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