The U.S. Code and the Office of the Law Revision Counsel

Enactment of Public Law 93-554 established the Office of the Law Revision Counsel in the waning days of 1974.  As part of the House of Representatives, its purpose is clear per 2 U.S.C. 285a:

“The principle purpose of the Office shall be to develop and keep current an official and positive codification of the laws of the United States.”

This section also mandates the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (hereinafter the “Office”) remain impartial in the conduct of its duties.

New Edition of the Code

In keeping with its stated purpose, one of the primary functions of the Office is “To prepare and publish periodically a new edition of the United States Code” (2 U.S.C. 285b (3)).  Their latest work product being the 2006 edition of the U.S. Code rolling off the press right now.

The Code may be downloaded and searched from the Office of Law Revision Counsel website.  Other links you’ll find here include “Classification Tables listing sections of the U.S. Code affected by recently enacted laws” and “Codification legislation of the Office.”

Positive Law Codification

This last link leads to a brief explanation of the Office’s other major function:  positive law codification (2 U.S.C. 285b).  According to their website, this process involves “preparing and enacting, one title at a time, a revision and restatement of the general and permanent laws of the United States.”

All the laws appearing in the U.S. Code have been codified, meaning that each of the session laws from the Statutes at Large have been integrated into the Code.  Session laws are assigned a title, chapter, section number, and legislative history notes added to form an official record of the laws of the United States.

Those titles of the Code that have not yet undergone positive law codification represent only prima facie evidence of the law in which case the Statutes at Large still govern, whereas positive law constitutes legal evidence of the law.  As of the 2006 edition, 24 of the 50 Titles comprising the U.S. Code have been rendered into positive law.

Once the Office has prepared a title for positive law codification, it must be submitted to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and then forwarded to Congress for passage and signed by the President like any other bill before becoming law.

Besides becoming legal evidence of the law, some of the other benefits of positive law codification are improved organization, a precise statutory text, streamlined citation, elimination of obsolete provisions, and correction of technical errors such as misspellings, grammar and the like. None of these changes alter the meaning of the law in any way as the Office is directed to prepare a revision and restatement of the Code “which conforms to the understood policy, intent, and purpose of the Congress in the original enactments” (2 U.S.C. 285b(1)).

These benefits and others are outlined in greater detail in a brochure “Positive Law Codification in the United State Code” authored by the Office which can be found online at the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington D.C. (LLSDC) website.

Indeed, this is only one of the many excellent links that comprise the LLSDC’s Legislative Source Book.  Of particular interest to those who wish to read further, the section entitled “United States Statutes and the United States Code Historical Outlines, Notes, Lists, Tables, and Sources” is a solid legal research resource.  For example, a good deal of the larger historical context surrounding the presentation and publication of the U.S. Code not covered here is well summarized in the short piece “Basic Overview on How Federal Laws are Published, Organized, and Cited.”

When all is said and done, the greatest benefit for every citizen alike is that both periodic publication of new editions and positive law codification of the U.S. Code provides greater public access and a more comprehensive understanding of the laws of the United States.

Submitted by Eric Taylor on February 19, 2009

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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