Different Types of Law in the American Legal System




Statutory laws are the formal laws written and enacted by legislative bodies. At the federal level, statutes are created by Congress and signed into law by the President. At the state level, similar processes occur within state legislatures. These laws are organized by topic into codes, such as the United States Code (U.S.C.) at the federal level or respective state codes like the California Civil Code.

For example, a federal statute might regulate behavior across the nation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. State statutes might address more localized issues, like traffic regulations or education standards.


Case Law


Case law is made up of the written opinions of appellate and supreme courts. When a court interprets a statute or a constitutional provision in the course of resolving a dispute, this interpretation becomes a precedent. Lower courts within the same jurisdiction are generally obligated to follow these precedents. This body of precedent is known as case law.

Regulations (Administrative Law)


Regulations are a form of law that comes from federal, state, or local administrative agencies, created to implement their duties and powers granted by legislative statutes. This includes rules, procedures, and practices of these agencies.

These regulations are enforced like statutes and can often be quite detailed, outlining the specific requirements necessary to comply with broad statutory mandates. They are usually subject to a public comment period before they are finalized.


Local Ordinances (Municipal Codes)


Local ordinances (also called Municipal Codes) are laws passed by cities, towns, and counties. These laws are typically focused on issues and matters specific to the local area. For example, a city may pass an ordinance requiring that all residents recycle, or it may set a curfew for minors. Local ordinances often deal with building and safety codes, zoning, and nuisances.

Local ordinances are often more flexible and tailored to the unique needs and issues of the local community, providing mayors and city councils with the ability to address matters that are not specifically dealt with by state or federal law


Constitutional Law


Constitutional law is the foundation of all law in the United States. It is derived from the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions. Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority. It governs the relationships between the judiciary, the legislature, the executive, the states, and the citizens.

Constitutional law issues often involve the Bill of Rights, which are the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, protecting freedoms like speech, religion, and the press. For example, cases such as Miranda v. Arizona shaped the rights of individuals in relation to police interrogation.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on interpreting the U.S. Constitution. Decisions made in constitutional law cases have far-reaching implications and can invalidate legislation or executive actions that are found to be unconstitutional.



The American legal system is a tapestry of various laws that work together to govern the United States. Understanding each type of law is important for comprehending how the American legal system operates, and how rights and responsibilities are defined and protected under the law. 

For a clearer understanding of the types of laws in the United States, how they are created, how they are organized, and how they are applied in the resolution of legal disputes, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook, which provides you with a solid foundation of legal knowledge that anyone can achieve.