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Sources of Federal State and Local Law

13. 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.)

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