What Is Federal Law?

Federal law refers to the body of laws created and administered by a country’s central government, including constitutional provisions, statutes and regulations passed by Congress, executive orders issued by the President and court decisions made at federal level. When there is conflict with state or local laws, federal laws usually overrule them whereas there may also be rules and procedures set in place for creating new federal laws.

Federal law in the US encompasses many subjects, such as criminal, civil and administrative law. Federal legislation includes such acts as the Americans with Disabilities Act which protects disabled people against discrimination based on disability as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act that establishes procedures for reviewing secret CIA material shared with federal judges.

Another key example of federal law can be seen in the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates that “[t]he Constitution and laws of the United States shall be supreme law of the land,” taking precedence over any state laws in terms of conflicts with federal legislation or codified in United States Code. Lastly, federal case law can also form part of this category of legislation but must still adhere to particular constitutional provisions, statutes or regulations for it to be considered valid law.

There are both codified and uncodified federal laws; there are also many types of federal legislation created by either the executive branch or judiciary that is uncodified or noncodified in nature, including treaties approved by the Senate, agency-issued regulations or guidance documents from agencies, and legal documents that have been officially issued by government bodies. Federal laws cover topics like civil rights, immigration, commerce and environmental protection.

The creation and enforcement of federal law are managed by various agencies, such as the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency. For instance, criminal prosecutions and civil rights cases fall under DOJ jurisdiction while E.P.A enforces civil law as well as environmental regulations. There are also independent agencies such as Office of Administrative Law Judges which administers and enforces contracts signed under federal legislation.

The Library of Congress offers resources to assist with finding and understanding federal laws. Explore our collection of Federal Law books which compile statutes and regulations by subject matter; our guides on how to trace a statute or interpret federal law can also prove invaluable tools. Furthermore, digital resources offered by the Library provide access to full texts of federal statutes, regulations and case law including searchable versions of Statutes at Large that enable users to look up statutes by name, keywords, congressional session or type of law.

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