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.
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).
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 decisions of other courts on the same issue.
How Statutes Are Made
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.
How Checks and Balances Affect Laws
Members of Congress have the power to create new 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 reviews statutes to determine whether they are valid under the state and federal constitutions. When a court finds a statute unconstitutional, it in effect creates a law that is applicable to the general public.
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.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.