United States Style Codes

United States Style Codes

A code (in the United States style code) is a compilation of all the Acts of a jurisdiction,
arranged in a logical and ordered form under subject headings.

The Statutory Codes of Common law Countries

In some Common law countries, like New Zealand, the word “code” has a quite different sense. It is used to describe a single Act that abolishes the common law on a specific topic and replaces it with a set of statutory rules that henceforth become the exhaustive and exclusive source of the law on that topic.

These specific, ad hoc, codes bear little resemblance to the European codes. Despite the best efforts of their drafters they have always had an uneasy relationship with the common law both with the common law they have supposedly replaced, and also with the remaining common law that continues to surround them.

The type of code found in the United States

There is a federal United States Code (assembled in 1926), and all the states have their own state codes.(1) Unlike the codes of the civil law systems and the codes of some common law countries (see above), the United States style code does not seek to replace and supplant the common law, but simply to collect and order the statute law. In United States style codes, all of the Acts of
Parliament of a jurisdiction are arranged, in logical and ordered form, under subject

These codes are a sort of compilation of Acts by topic. Under this system, individual Acts are published chronologically as they are passed,(2) but are then inserted into, and republished as part of, the code.

Thus the Iowa code presents all the Acts of that state in three volumes of some 1,500 pages each, organised under titles such as: State Sovereignty and Management; Elections and official duties; Agriculture; Education and Cultural Affairs; transportation; local Government; Property; and Criminal law. There are 16 titles in all, subdivided into 83 subtitles. Each provision in each Act has a reference representing its place in the code.

The Iowa code is reprinted with amendments every second year. It is authorised, and is accorded official status, by a provision in the code itself.(3)

However not all the codes in United States jurisdictions have been given completely official
status in this way. In the federal United States Code, only 23 of the 50 titles have been enacted into positive law; the other 27 are only prima facie evidence of the law. There is an ongoing process to grant official status to those other titles.(4)

The codes in United States jurisdictions do not constitute the whole law of the state concerned, for the United States is a common law jurisdiction in which there is much judge-made law as well.(5) Nor are they the equivalent of the continental codes; they do not have the same complete logical coherence. They are rather collections of Acts. Over the years amendment has lessened even such coherence as they have. However the codes do contain all statute law, organised, categorised and indexed so as to make it as easy to navigate as possible.

In the United States, the task of codifying the law is undertaken in each jurisdiction by a
specially authorised commission or office.

Revision and Codification

The revision is the process of substantially re-enacting earlier law in a more accessible
form, whether with or without amendment, bringing together law on the same topic that was once contained in other legislation, and enabling redrafting and reorganisation of a legislation to make its content clearer.

The relationship between revision and Codification has long been a feature of
the federal United States Code: (6)

“Because many of the general and permanent laws that are required to be incorporated into
the United States Code are inconsistent, redundant, and obsolete, the office of the law
Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives has been engaged in a continuing
comprehensive project authorized by law to revise and codify, for enactment into positive
law, each title of the Code. When this project is completed, all the titles of the Code will be
legal evidence of the general and permanent laws and recourse to the numerous volumes
of the United States Statutes at large for this purpose will no longer be necessary.”


    1. Different states use different names: for example “codes” , “revised statutes” and “laws” . California, New York and texas have several subject-specific codes; other states and the federal government have a single code.
    2. The individual acts are called “slip laws” and the bound volumes are called “session laws.”
    3. Iowa Code 2007, ch 2B.17.
    4. US House of Representatives, office of the law Revision Counsel <https://uscode.house.gov/ codification/legislation.shtml>. There are also commercial publications of the codes, sometimes annotated, and also web-based versions, which although accurate are not “official” . See for example the web-based version of the Arkansas Code, with its Disclaimer , <https:// www.arkleg.state.ar.us/data/ar_code.asp>.
    5. An exception is Louisiana, which is a civil jurisdiction, although governed by common law on federal matters.
    6. Office of the law Revision Counsel, United States House of Representatives “Certification legislation” <https://uscode.house.gov/codification/legislation.shtml>

See Also



See Also

References and Further Reading

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