Understanding Federal Law

Federal law refers to laws established by a nation’s national government. In the US, this includes the Constitution, statutes passed by Congress, regulations promulgated by government agencies, and court decisions. According to the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, federal law takes precedence over state laws when it comes to interstate commerce, currency trading and national defense issues.

At the core of understanding Federal law is an understanding of different types of legislation. A federal statute is a legislative document that establishes specific policy, passed by both houses of congress and taking various forms ranging from commemorative days to more complex environmental, economic and social concerns.

Once introduced, a bill is assigned to one or more committees for consideration. There are 17 Senate committees with 70 subcommittees and 23 House committees with 104 subcommittees each overseeing different policy areas; their hearings examine both merits and flaws of bills introduced, inviting experts, advocates, opponents as witnesses; they even have powers to compel witnesses; ultimately making recommendations as to how it should proceed with legislation introduced.

After hearings are held on bills, they either pass or are rejected by the full committee for further consideration by its original chamber. Over each Congress’ two year session, thousands of bills are introduced before Congress; hundreds of statutes in the form of acts and joint resolutions are then approved each year by their lawmakers.

Federal law can be extremely complex, covering an array of subjects such as environmental protection, foreign affairs, economics, social issues and health and safety. Some laws are administered by agencies that fall under the executive branch while others are upheld in courts; sometimes both legislative orders and executive orders can be employed simultaneously in order to resolve an issue.

Interpretation of Federal law often centers on whether an agency regulation merits Chevron deference, giving that body authority to interpret their own laws. Federal agencies frequently release large volumes of manuals, policies, letters and rulings which courts often consider persuasive when interpreting statutes or regulations (known as Skidmore deference) but do not create binding precedent.

Federal law includes the Constitution, statutes and regulations passed by Congress, Executive Orders issued by the President, and decisions of federal courts. Federal law covers all residents of the United States while state law only affects residents within one particular state’s borders. States may enact additional legislation to supplement Federal ones but according to the Constitution only Congress has authority over international affairs, commerce, currency matters, national defense matters and crimes committed against federal jurisdiction. Amendments of federal statutes by Supreme Court cannot be removed by State legislatures.

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