Section 1.1.3: Statutory Law

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Statutory law, often referred to as code law, forms a significant part of the United States legal fabric. This type of law emanates from the legislative branch of government and comprises all the statutes or laws passed by Congress and the legislatures of various states. But how does a bill turn into law and contribute to statutory law? Let’s explore the journey.

The Lifecycle of a Statute

Every statutory law starts as a proposal, termed a bill. This bill can be introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate and is immediately assigned a number – preceded by H.R. for the House or S for the Senate. This number remains with the bill throughout the legislative process and is crucial for legal researchers tracking the legislative history of a statute.

The legislative process involves several stages, each designed to carefully scrutinize the bill before it becomes law. Once a bill is introduced, it goes before a committee that specializes in the bill’s subject matter. If the committee favors the bill, it is put before the full Senate or House for a vote. A majority vote in either house sends the bill to the other house for consideration.

Presidential Approval: The Final Step

Upon approval by both houses, the bill goes to the President for approval. The President then either approves or vetoes the bill. By law, if the President chooses to ignore the bill, it is considered approved after ten days. However, a presidential veto can only be overturned by a two-thirds majority vote from both houses of Congress. If the President signs and approves the bill, it becomes law at a specific time stated in the bill.

Statutory Law: The Backbone of Legal Codes

Upon enactment, most statutes are organized by subject into a legal code, such as the United States Code (U.S.C.). For example, the section dealing with crimes is often referred to as the criminal code. An essential aspect of statutory law is its generic nature; unlike case law, it isn’t designed to answer a specific legal question raised in an actual legal dispute.

Citing Legal Codes According to the Bluebook

The correct citation is crucial in the legal field, and the Bluebook provides standardized guidance for citing a myriad of legal sources, including legal codes. Here’s how to cite statutory codes according to the Bluebook.

When citing a code, you need to identify the title number, the abbreviation of the code, the section symbol (§), and the section number. These elements are typically followed by the year of the code edition cited. Parentheses are used to enclose the year. In the case of federal codes, you use “U.S.C.” as the code abbreviation.

Inserting the Section Symbol (§) in Microsoft Word

To insert the section symbol (§) in Microsoft Word, follow these simple steps:

  • Position your cursor where you want the symbol.
  • Press “Alt” + “Ctrl” + “Shift” + “S” on your keyboard.Alternatively, you can:
  • Click on “Insert” in the top menu.
  • Choose “Symbol” and then “More Symbols”.
  • Select the section symbol (§) and click “Insert”.

Here’s an example of citing a section from the United States Code (U.S.C.):

  • 17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012).

This citation refers to Section 107 in Title 17 of the 2012 edition of the United States Code.

When citing state statutes, the format is similar, but the abbreviation used for the code varies by state. You should consult Table 1 in the Bluebook for the proper abbreviations of each state’s codes.

Here’s an example of citing a section from the California Penal Code:

  • Cal. Penal Code § 484(a) (West 2020).

In this citation, “Cal. Penal Code” represents the California Penal Code, “§ 484(a)” is the section number, and “West 2020” refers to the 2020 edition of the West’s annotated California Penal Code.

Remember, the goal of citation is to provide enough information so that the reader can easily find the original source. Therefore, ensuring that your citations follow the correct format is crucial in the practice of law and in legal research.

Concluding Thoughts

Understanding the origins and journey of statutory law offers insight into the complexities of our legal system. Every section of our legal codes is a product of rigorous scrutiny and deliberation by our elected representatives, a testament to our democratic ideals.  Since criminal law in the United States is mostly found in statutes, it is essential for criminal justice students to understand statutory law.


This Section covered the concept of statutory law, or code law, a crucial aspect of the United States legal system. The legislative process of transforming a bill into law was delineated, demonstrating how each bill goes through rigorous review and voting in both houses of Congress before being sent to the President for approval or veto.

Once enacted, these statutes are systematically organized into legal codes like the United States Code (U.S.C.). Importantly, it was underscored that, unlike case law, statutory law has a more generic nature and isn’t designed to answer a specific legal question.

This Section also delved into the subject of citing legal codes based on The Bluebook, a significant reference for legal citation. The proper citation format for federal codes and state statutes was demonstrated, emphasizing the importance of precise citation in legal practice and research. For convenience, a simple guide on inserting the section symbol in Microsoft Word was provided.

The overview concluded by recognizing that understanding the origin and journey of statutory law provides valuable insight into the legal system, especially for criminal justice students, as most criminal law in the United States is found in statutes.

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File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  06/29/2023

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