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Sources of Federal State and Local Law

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Sources of Federal State and Local Law," in The Business Professor, updated January 1, 2015, last accessed April 8, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/sources-of-federal-state-and-local-law/.
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Sources of Law
What are the sources of Law? Federal Law, State Law, and Local Law

Next Article: Role of the Judiciary in the Legal System


What are the sources of federal, state, and local law?

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Congress passes federal acts made up of statutes that are published in the Federal Code of Statutes. Federal agencies pass administrative regulations as the procedural rules for executing the statutes. These regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations. Congress authorizes treaties with foreign nations and the President issues executive orders that also have the force and effect of law. State legal systems are quite similar to the federal legal system. State law is derived from the State’s Constitution. State legislatures pass statutes and administrative agencies adopt regulations to carry out these statutes. States authorize local governments to pass local ordinances and to enforce state law. In state and federal systems, the judiciary provides appellate opinions that have the same legal force in that jurisdiction as the laws being interpreted. In terms of legal priority, federal law is superior to state law, and state law is superior to local law. The state may regulate any area of law not specifically reserved to or preempted by federal law. State constitutions specifically designate the areas of law that localities can regulate.

A list may help you to visualize the hierarchy of federal, state, and local laws:

    • US Constitution and Amendments
    • Federal Statutes & Common-Law Interpretations
    • Federal Regulations
    • Treaties & Executive Orders
    • State Constitutions
    • State Statutes & Common-Law Interpretations
    • State Regulations
    • Local Ordinances

Discussion: What are some areas of federal law? What are some areas of state law? Can you think of some areas of law that are regulated by both state and federal governments? Can you think of a situation in which state and federal laws conflict? (Hint: Think about employment law and immigration law.)

Discussion Input

  • According to the constitution, in Article III, the Congress places the following areas under the jurisdiction of Federal law; Maritime and admiralty cases Cases against ambassadors and foreign ministers Cases under the federal law, federal constitution and treaties; Cases between citizens of different countries or different states; Cases between two or more states; Cases in which the United States is a party; Cases between citizens of the state claiming land grants from different states; Cases between a state and a foreign state or citizens of the state and those of a foreign state The state laws apply only within the boundaries of the state. They apply in the following areas: Marriages, such as legalizing Gay marriages; Legalization of Marijuana; Immigration; Abortion; Real estate and property rights; Compensation for injuries for workers and individuals involved in accidents; Divorce and family matters Areas regulated by both state law and federal law include: Taxation, Establishing courts, Borrowing money, Lawmaking and law enforcement, Offering charters to banks and corporations, Eminent domain. Conflicts between federal and state law often arise.  A common conflict between federal law and state law is the case of immigration law. In these cases, state attempts to regulate immigration, and thus interfere with the federal government’s authority over immigration.

Academic Research

Garvey Algero, Mary, The Sources of Law and the Value of Precedent: A Comparative and Empirical Study of a Civil Law State in a Common Law Nation (March 9, 2005). 65 Louisiana Law Review 775 (2005); Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2230963.

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