U.S. Courts and their opinions

Courts are sources of law in that they offer written explanations of the decisions they make about the parties before them. These written decisions or “opinions” are primary authorities in that they affect those litigants, but they serve to interpret and construe the jurisdiction’s laws for future litigants. There are courts at both of the (major) levels of government in the United States: The federal court system is structured according to the United States Constitution and statutes, consisting of federal trial courts and appellate courts. The trial courts are called “district courts”—each covering a state or part of a state—and Read More …

Hierarchy of U.S. primary authorities

There are two (major) levels of government in the United States—the federal or national government and the state governments. Primary authorities are made at the federal and state levels and also at county, municipal, and other levels. As a result, there are interlocking hierarchies of authorities, a simplified depiction of which appears in this figure. The elements of these hierarchies include: Constitutions. A constitution, depicted in blue in the figure, is a document adopted at the inception of a state or national government, and sometimes amended thereafter, that establishes the basic, highest legal rules of the jurisdiction. Statute (or legislation). Read More …

Sources of law

A source of law is an entity that makes and promulgates primary legal authorities. There are two major levels of government in the United States—the federal or national government and the state governments. Primary authorities are made at the federal and state levels and also at county, municipal, and other levels. Each level of government has branches (often three of them) that function as sources of law. For example, at the federal level, under the United States Constitution, each branch produces primary authority, as shown in this figure. Legislative. The U.S. Congress or the state legislature has the power to Read More …

“Legal authority” defined

A “legal authority” is just a written text (whether in electronic or print form) that says something about the law. Don’t confuse it with “the authorities”—people or agencies with legal power of some kind—or with “authority”—legal power to do something. An authority is a source in the sense that the texts you consulted when writing undergraduate papers were sources, but don’t confuse a legal authority with a “source of law.” Authorities consist of texts of two kinds: primary and secondary authorities. “Primary authority” just means that a text is binding as law, at least over some people. In other words, Read More …