Definition of a Statutory Provision

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If you've ever spoken to an attorney or, even better, read a legal memorandum, you have some idea of the meaning of legalese. Legalese refers to lawyer-talk, a way of communicating in which some English speakers feel words are twisted and inflated so that simple concepts seem complex. "Statutory provision" is an example of legalese, since it just means a part of a law.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A statute is another word for a law, and a statutory provision is another term for a statute. Some say it is one of those terms often employed by attorneys to makes things sound more complicated than they actually are.

What is a Statute?

A statute is a law, a written law that is enacted by the state or federal legislature. A statute can do one of several things. Often, it forbids a certain acts (for example, killing endangered species) or directs a certain act (for example, paying taxes). But sometimes it can simply be a directive or set out government agencies or procedures (such as the Social Security Act). Statutes can cover a wide range of topics, from criminal law to personal property law, to health care, motor vehicle laws and other matters affecting public interest.

Now while all statutes are laws, not all laws are statutes. The United States Constitution is the law of the land, and it isn't a statute. Some areas of law are called "common law," and this isn't a statute either. Common law is generally not written up in legal codes because it is jurisprudence, based on previous court decisions, usually by higher courts like appellate courts of the Supreme Court, on the same issue. This is also known as case law.

Enactment of a Statute

A statute starts life as an idea that is created into a bill. If a legislator likes the idea, she will sponsor the bill and introduce it. The bill is usually assigned to a legislative committee and must pass out of the committee to be voted on by the entire chamber. If the bill is approved by both houses of the legislature, it becomes law and is signed by the governor, for state law, or the president for federal law.

Once the bill becomes law, the various provisions in the bill are called statutes. "Statute" means that the law resulted from a bill in the legislature. All statutes, federal as well as state, are grouped into codes by subject matter. For example, a new probate law enacted in California will be placed in the California Probate Code. All federal and state codes are published in books. You can find them at law libraries.

The official code for federal statutes is the United States Code (U.S.C.). Each code is comprised of sections and subsections.

How Checks and Balances Affect Laws

Members of Congress have the power to create new laws, as well as to repeal existing laws. The fact that they are elected by the public is what makes a country a representative democracy. If you are trying to find out which law applies in a case, consult statutes first, together with the state and federal constitutions.

However, the United States government is based on a system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Each of these influences laws. The executive branch has some lawmaking authority, while the court system, or judiciary, reviews statutes to determine the legislative intent and whether they are valid under the state and federal constitutions.

This process is known as judicial review. When a court finds a statute unconstitutional, it in effect creates a law that is applicable to the general public.

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