Legal Landscapes Explained
Our Legal Landscapes outline the laws relevant to a legal area. We list the laws by legal authority:
Legislative | Executive | Judicial
Paying attention to the legal authority is critical to understanding each law's strength.
The Constitution started it all. It defined our branches of government, and it protects our fundamental rights. Statements in the Constitution trump all other laws and policies.
Congress makes federal laws that carry out the Constitution. They are published in the United States Code (U.S. Code or U.S.C.). These can be changed or repealed by Congress itself. They can be overruled by the Constitution, which is voiced through the Supreme Court.
See Marbury v. Madison for the first case in which the Supreme Court overruled a Congressional Act as unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court is the highest authority deciding disputes. Disputes meeting certain "federal" characteristics (defined in the Constitution) may start in federal trial courts ("District Courts") and they may be appealed to appeals courts ("Circuit Courts of Appeals"). The last appeal is to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court decides whether or not it will hear a given appeal.
president and Executive agencies
The executive agencies were created through acts of Congress. The President is the Chief Executive and thus controls the agencies, as well as appoints people to lead them. The agencies write rules ("regulations") that have the force of law, but they cannot overstep the boundaries of the legislation (federal laws from the legislative branch) that give them authority.
The states have control over certain subject areas (granted by the Constitution). Federal laws trump state laws if they come into conflict. States may put additional restrictions on citizens, or give additional benefits to citizens, as long as those restrictions do not conflict with the Constitution or with federal laws or regulations.