I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The constitution, treaties, statutes, administrative regulations, and judicial decisions are all of the sources of law in the U.S.A. Everything else is interpretation or bureaucracy, and regular people have no ability to change or adjust those areas. This article is about what sources of law there are, not what sources of law there should be.
The Federal Constitution
The supreme law of the land. The debate continues to this day whether the Constitution is a "living document" or is set in stone from 250 years ago. Personally, I believe that most people are short-sighted hypocrites, and that the document is set in stone that is not subject to change unless amended by the electorate through valid amendments.
Treaties have the same force and effect as the Federal Constitution. Thus, when people complain about "blue helmets" from the United Nations or the reach of the International Criminal Court, the complainers are the ones who are kooks, not the people who are in the institutions that treaties have created.
In the Federal government arena and in the areas of law where national uniformity is required (pollution, banking, maritime, international travel, etc.), the Federal government has enacted statutes that apply through the country. One example of an entire statutory regime is the Federal District Court system, which is entirely statutory and could be extended or extinguished at Congress's whim.
The Federal government interprets, clarifies, and/or extends its own laws. Due to the law of bureaucracy, Federal agencies will always issue regulations that increase the power and reach of the Federal government. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers has an aggressive interpretation of the phrase "navigable waters" that extends its own reach to basically anything larger than a creek in the entire country.
Federal court decisions
The judicial branch interprets the Constitution, statutes, and administrative regulations to confirm the grant or restrict the extent of the Federal and state governments' powers. However, the Federal courts do not have the power to override a state Supreme Court's interpretation of state laws.
The states provide for state-specific issues and/or confirm or remain silent on Federal rights to their citizens. California, for example, enshrines freedom of speech but says nothing about gun ownership.
State legislatures pass laws that control state-specific issues such as gambling, property tax, and other matters.
State administrative agencies regulate state-specific issues.
State court decisions
State Supreme Courts and lower courts resolve issues of state law as well as local and family disputes.
Effect of all these sources of law
Confusion, delay, self-importance, the bureaucratic mentality, avoidance, conflicts of law, and many other challenges. On the other hand, you have power, justice, checks and balances, rights, and protection/security. History shows time and time again that people as a group are willing to put up with challenges or abuses of power in order to achieve very desirable results such as stability and security. And don't forget that normal people are the ones in charge-- normal people don't care about getting creative or pushing the envelope, so you end up with a bunch of boring, non-dramatic people writing laws and making judicial decisions that affect everyone.
Last updated: July 6, 2018
© 2018 Andrew G. Watters