LOST LAWS: WHAT WE CAN’T FIND IN THE U.S. CODE

LOST LAWS: WHAT WE CAN’T FIND IN THE U.S. CODE

by Will Tress

Golden Gate University Law Review, Vol. 40, Issue #2, Winter 2010, p. 129

Conclusion (p. 164)

Three features that detract from the U.S. Code as the comprehensive and authoritative source for federal statutes are rooted in the Code’s historical development.  The prima facie titles of the Code lack sufficient notice that the authoritative language of the statutes codified there resides in the Statutes at Large.  Better signposting for those titles is suggested.  Amendments to the positive law titles that are not drafted in the proper “direct amendment” format are relegated to footnotes, where they can be overlooked by the uninformed reader.  Annual corrective bills would ameliorate this problem.  General laws that are considered temporary, such as those included in appropriations acts, are left out of the Code entirely.  Pointers to these uncodified laws might be incorporated into an unofficial electronic version of the U.S. Code as part of the search results by sidebar references.  Such an electronic Code could easily provide the signposts to the session laws for prima facie titles and even insert draft versions of amendments into positive law titles pending official correction legislation.  The Congressional Offices of Code Revision and Legislative Counsel should collaborate with the Government Printing Office to use new information technology to fix old problems with the U.S. Code.

This article is going to be required reading for our class next year.  Its discussion of “the prima facie code” and the positive law titles, a topic that always throws the class for a bit of a loop, is the best I’ve seen on the subject, with excellent examples (and potential homework questions) in the footnotes.

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