Laws codify the core values of the people of a nation. Here is a complete overview of who makes laws in the USA and holds the key powers.
The rule of law, as stated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in 350 BC, is better than the rule of an individual. And as humans have progressed over the years, the belief in this fact has only strengthened with time.
In the United States, there are laws, rules, and regulations to oversee every aspect of the lives of the citizens. Sometimes, these laws might annoy you as they may feel like someone is constantly telling us what to do and what not to do. It can also make us feel like someone is keeping us from doing what we wish to do. Yet, in order to live in a society civilly, we must have structured rules in place to follow.
Who gets to make these laws? Where are they sourced from? And what happens if someone breaks them. Read on to find out who makes laws in the United States of America and the complexities around the matter.
What is law?
Law is a set of rules or regulations that are decided by a particular authority. It is important in keeping peace and security in society. Courts and police enforce the system of rules and have the liberty to punish people who break the law of the land. Punishment may be in the shape of a fine, penalty, or jail time. The creation of laws is a process as old as time. Back in the ancient times, laws were written by influential people of the tribes and leaders to set out rules on how people must live, work and do business within the society.
Unfortunately, history has witnessed many times how certain privileged individuals make laws to benefit a few at the expense of society. This has always resulted in chaos and anarchy. Keeping this in view, the modern world has acquired a new way of law-making. While the processes vary from country to country, the basic process is somewhat similar.
Laws play an important role in binding all people living in a community. These protect the general safety of the citizens, ensure their rights and protect them against abuse by other individuals or organizations and also the government.
The rule of law
President Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Ours is a government of liberty, by, through and under the law. No man is above it, and no man is below it.”
The American political system is committed to the rule of law, which means that all citizens, irrespective of race, creed, or gender, are governed by the same set of laws. These are applied through a fair and equal judicial procedure which is imperative for the resolution of conflicts.
All citizens are expected to remain faithful to the rule of law and allow it to establish a civil society in which the rights of all are respected and guaranteed equality of opportunity. As citizens, respecting and abiding by laws are mandatory. The rule of law forms the foundation of the American system, and the words “Equal Justice Under Law” are written in front of the Supreme Court in Washington. The rule of law is the heart of American democracy. And it is the job of the courts to interpret the law and be the judge of who broke the law.
Who makes laws for the country?
Laws in the United States of America are derived from several different sources. They can be created through a joint effort of different bodies, including the Constitution, statutes, regulations, case law, and state and local law.
The constitution of the United States
The constitution is known as the founding document of and the highest legal authority. The Constitution of the United States of America was signed in 1788 and has been operational since 1789. It has outlined the fundamental structure of the government of the United States of America and also its limitations. According to the Constitution, the federal government has three parts;
- Congress, which is the legislative branch
- The President and federal agencies, which is the executive brand
- Federal courts which is the judicial branch
The constitution gives each brand set powers and overlapping authorities in order to make sure that none of the three has a higher authority than the other. All three branches are merely involved in the creation of law in the United States of America.
The fact is that laws need to be upgraded with changing times as humans evolve and progress. Also, the Constitution, as an old document, is written vaguely as the founders of the nation at that time could not imagine all the possible problems faced by the nation today. The constitutional law can thus be changed and amended with a set process. The process involved congress and states.
Laws for the country are made on the national level. They are called Federal laws because they are made by the federal government. All citizens of the United States of America must abide by Federal laws. These laws are made by Congress on different kinds of matters which may range from traffic rules and limitations to security laws. These laws are for the safety of the citizens.
The lawmaking body of the USA is called the Federal Government and consists of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The United States Congress is the legislative body that takes part in the lawmaking process. The law formed by Congress is called Statutes. Congress is the first branch of government according to the Constitution and is primarily responsible for creating national law, keeping in regard to the limitations determined by the Constitution.
Once the bill becomes a law, it is appointed a number and published in the United States Statutes and, depending on its nature, is incorporated in the United States Code.
Laws mostly start in Congress in the form of a bill by the Senators and Representatives in both the houses. These are directly and indirectly elected from Congress and usually introduce thousands of bills during their tenure. Some bills are rejected, while some may become laws.
In order for a legislation bill to become a law, both houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, must vote for the bill to become law. Once it’s voted on by both the houses, it is sent to the President of the United States, and he has the liberty to choose whether or not to sign the bill. The President can either veto the bill or turn it into law. If vetoed, it is returned to Congress, which has the power to override the veto with ⅔ vote in both the houses. If it achieves that, the bill turns into a law.
The executive branch of the federal government, which consists of the President and some of the federal agencies, can also formulate laws which are called regulations or administrative laws.
The Constitution grants all lawmaking powers to Congress but requires the executive branch of the federal government to have some powers too. When Congress creates a regulation and passes it, it is bound to direct it to the President for review. Regulations, although different from statutes, still hold the force of law.
Federal laws are derived from the President or other agencies associated with the Executive Branch of the government. These laws are in the form of rules, regulations, procedures, decisions, and orders.
The Federal Courts
The Federal courts, which include the Supreme Court, forms the judicial branch of the federal government and has the power to make new law. These laws are called case laws.
The role of courts is to resolve disagreements in the law by interpreting the Constitution, statutes, rules, and regulations.
State and local governments
All 50 states and their local government and other US territories can form state and local laws.
According to the Constitution, a union of states is created with the federal government in the center. The principle of divided sovereignty makes the federal government responsible for some areas of law, such as money, war, etc while the state government is responsible for the other areas like police or health, etc. these predefined areas of law and jurisdiction allow each state to have a government similar to the federal government with all three branches; legislative, executive and judicial.
The line between federal and state governments may appear blurry, but the fact is that state laws can be created; however, if the federal conflicts with them, state law is more likely to lose power.
Who makes federal laws?
Federal law means the body of law that is formulated by the federal government of a country. A federal government is created when different groups of political units, such as provinces or states, join together to form a federation investing many powers in the central government while retaining some of its powers. This results in the constitution of two or more levels of government within a specific territory. Many countries have a federal government. These include Australia, Germany, Canada, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
The Constitution of the United States has established that federal law is superior to state law. Both have designated powers. Federal laws include the areas like international affairs, national defense, interstate commerce, and currency. The Federal government, which includes all three legislative, executive, and judiciary bodies, are vested with the power to legislate and form laws. All federal laws are codified in the United States Code.
Which branch makes laws?
As there are three branches of government, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch, many questions about which branch makes laws. The answer is Congress. It is important to note that of all the three co-equal branches, Congress has significant powers vested to it by the American Constitution. As Congress holds legislative power, it means that all new laws or change to existing laws is held by it.
Who makes state laws?
In the American government, the state legislature makes the laws in every state. The United States of America is a federation with 50 states. Each state has its own state government, including the state legislature and courts. These state courts have the power to review laws, and if a court decides that a law formed by the state legislature is not in accordance with the state’s constitution, it is declared invalid.
How does a bill become a law?
The most important job of the U.S House of Representatives is to create laws. It requires a specific process for laws to be created, and it is certainly not an easy one. All laws in the United States are initiated as bills, and before it becomes law, they must be approved by Congress and the President. Here is the journey of a bill and its maturation to the law in the current legislative system of the United States of America.
An idea forms a bill.
The first stage of a bill that forms law is conceived as an idea. Such an idea may have been conceived by a member of the Representatives of the House or by a citizen. Citizens can get in touch with their representatives in Congress to discuss new ideas, which can be presented to the legislative body in the form of a bill. If an idea is deemed suitable, it is written as a bill. Thus the journey of the bill begins.
Initiation of the bill
Once the bill is written by the Representative, it requires a sponsor. Representatives gather support from fellow Representatives, and once the bill has the support of a few, it is ready to be brought forward and introduced to Congress.
Introduction of the bill
A bill is introduced when it is put inside the hopper. A hopper is a special box placed on the side of the clerk’s desk. Only representatives have the authority to introduce bills in the U.S House of Representatives. As the bill is put in the hopper, the bill clerk gives it a number, and the reading clerk reads out the bill to the House.
The bill is sent to the committee.
The bill is sent to the committee by the Speaker. The committee members are experts on certain topics like agriculture, education, and international relations. Depending on the nature of the bill, the standing committee members review and research the bill and decide whether the bill needs to be sent back to the House floor or not. If the committee members require more information, it is sent to the subcommittee, which examines it thoroughly. It is then sent back to the committee for approval.
The bill is approved, reported, and debated.
As the committee approves the bill, it is reported to the House floor, which formally gives the U.S House of Representatives to begin debating on the proposed bill. As it is debated, Representatives discuss the implications of the new bill presented and discuss it with utmost scrutiny. As the bill is debated, a series of back and forth discussions, agreements, and disagreements occur on the house floor. A reading clerk then reads out the bill section by section, and REpresentatives are granted the opportunity to recommend alterations. When all changes are made, and no more discussion is left to pursue, the bill is all ready to be voted on.
As the bill is ready to be voted on, one of the three methods of voting on the bill may take place. Viva Voce, which means a voice vote, is an option where the Speaker asks the House to say aye if they support the bill and those who oppose it to say no.
The second method of voting in the House is by asking those Representatives who support the bill to stand up and be counted. Those opposed are then required to stand too and be counted. The third method is recording votes in an electronic voting system. They can either vote yes, no, or present if they wish to not vote on the particular bill.
If the bill receives a majority vote, it is passed in the U.S House of Representatives. The Clerk of the House certifies it and refers it to the U.S Senate.
Bill reaches the U.S Senate.
Once the bill reaches the U.S Senate, it pretty much goes through the same process as it goes through in the House of Representatives. The Senate committee discusses the bill and reports it to the Senate floor for voting. Senators then vote on the bill by voice. Those in favor of the bill say ‘yea,’ and those who oppose it say ‘nay.’ Once the majority of the Senate says ‘yea,’ the bill is ready to be presented to the president.
The bill reaches the U.S President.
Once the bill reaches the President of the United States of America, he can follow either of the three courses of action. He may sign and pass the bill making law. He may also refuse to sign and veto the bill. In such a case, the bill is returned to the U.S House of Representatives along with the reasons for vetoing the bill. If the House of Representatives and Senate still believe that the bill should be law, they have the power to override the President’s veto on the condition that both the houses vote for the bill again and have two-thirst support for the bill.
Apart from these two actions, the President may also do nothing. In such a case, if Congress is in session, the bill will automatically become law in ten days. If Congress is not in session, the bill ceases to become a law.
The bill becomes a law.
If the bill is passed in both the houses of the U.S government and has been approved by the President, or if the presidential veto has been overridden, the bill formally becomes law. The government now has the power to enforce it.
How can a citizen make a law?
It is a fact that laws passed by the lawmaking body, the Legislature, have a direct impact on the lives of the citizens. These laws affect the taxes they pay, the penalties for offenses, and even actions to be taken at times of crisis. The path of law is long and tedious, conceived as an idea, travels as a draft from the different chambers of the Houses of the U.S government to the desk of the President- it passes through numerous detours before the idea becomes law. But where does the citizen fall in the entire step-by-step process of bills turning into laws? How can a citizen make a law?
Although the entire process of law-making is the job of the legislatures, the citizens can take part by initiating the idea that needs to become law. Legislators and the members of the government require the support of the common citizens to be in power. Citizens can use that power to make laws.
Get to know your legislators, do your homework and propose the idea to them. Gather support for the solutions you have in mind, and know your opposition. Citizens can use their voice to promote the initiation of a certain bill and force their representatives to represent their case in the form of the bill to the House. This is how citizens can be part of the law-making process.
It is necessary for the bill to undergo a proper legal procedure through a chain of experts and governmental bodies like the House of Representatives, House of Senate, and President in order to analyze the complexities of the bill and also legislate the best possible solutions which benefit all equally.
Importance of law in the society
Laws are crucial for peacekeeping. Without law, humans have the tendency to become utterly brutal. In order to maintain peace and security and make sure that all rights are protected within a polity, laws are absolutely vital. Laws are essential to regulate behavior. They are created by social and governmental institutions that also enforce these rules. These set of rules decided by a place or authority are meant to promote the protection of the rights of citizens. They may be about how people live, work or do business with each other. These laws also determine penalties and punishments for people who break the law.
Since ancient times humans have been making laws. Some of the earliest examples include Egyptian law, ancient Chinese law, Babylonian law, etc. History has shown how laws were made to benefit a specific section of the society which resulted in conflict. In order to prevent this, most countries today have a set path of lawmaking and have a Constitution which determines the overall framework of the society to make further laws.
Laws are important to set the standard for acceptable actions. Societies are prone to conflict, and laws provide clarity for all that is unlawful and unacceptable. Laws also provide access to justice, and anyone who is in search of justice is able to get it. While it is important to have laws to respond to injustices and harm to citizens, these are also important to prevent them too, which is how it keeps everyone in society safe. Laws also protect the vulnerable elements of society, offer a range of options to people, and protect human rights.
Legal systems are constantly required to evolve with the times, and if they fail to do so, laws will become obsolete, and societies will not be able to progress. Throughout history, the law has been used as a powerful tool for social change. The ideas of the abolishment of slavery and terming apartheid illegal was conceived by citizens who made sure that these ideas turned into laws. Laws prevent the continuation of all forms of injustices. Having a law written and drafted gives people power.
Lawmaking is an integral part of society and making sure that the process is seamless and just is a huge task for legislators. This is why the founding fathers of America have outlined a tedious procedure in order to ensure the law is not misused. As democratic powers, ensuring all citizens are treated equally and have the power to legislate remains the foundation of all regulations.