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An act of a legislature that declares, proscribes, or commands something; a specific law, expressed in writing.

A statute is a written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level. Statutes set forth general propositions of law that courts apply to specific situations. A statute may forbid a certain act, direct a certain act, make a declaration, or set forth governmental mechanisms to aid society.

A statute begins as a bill proposed or sponsored by a legislator. If the bill survives the legislative committee process and is approved by both houses of the legislature, the bill becomes law when it is signed by the executive officer (the president on the federal level or the governor on the state level). When a bill becomes law, the various provisions in the bill are called statutes. The term statute signifies the elevation of a bill from legislative proposal to law. State and federal statutes are compiled in statutory codes that group the statutes by subject. These codes are published in book form and are available at law libraries.

Lawmaking powers are vested chiefly in elected officials in the legislative branch. The vesting of the chief lawmaking power in elected lawmakers is the foundation of a representative democracy. Aside from the federal and state constitutions, statutes passed by elected lawmakers are the first laws to consult in finding the law that applies to a case.

The power of statutes over other forms of laws is not complete, however. Under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions, federal and state governments are comprised of a system of checks and balances among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. As the system of checks and balances plays out, the executive and judicial branches have the opportunity to fashion laws within certain limits. The Executive Branch may possess certain lawmaking powers under the federal or state constitutions, and the judiciary has the power to review statutes to determine whether they are valid under those constitutions. When a court strikes down a statute, it in effect creates a law of its own that applies to the general public.

Laws created through judicial opinion stand in contradistinction to laws created in statutes. Case law has the same legally binding effect as statutory law, but there are important distinctions between statutes and case law. Case law is written by judges, not by elected lawmakers, and it is written in response to a specific case before the court. A judicial opinion may be used as precedent for similar cases, however. This means that the judicial opinion in the case will guide the result in similar cases. In this sense a judicial opinion can constitute the law on certain issues within a particular jurisdiction. Courts can establish law in this way when no statute exists to govern a case, or when the court interprets a statute.

For example, if an appeals court holds that witness testimony on memory recovered through therapy is not admissible at trial, that decision will become the rule for similar cases within the appeals court's jurisdiction. The decision will remain law until the court reverses itself or is reversed by a higher court, or until the state or federal legislature passes a statute that overrides the judicial decision. If the courts strike down a statute and the legislature passes a similar statute, the courts may have an opportunity to declare the new statute unconstitutional. This cycle can be repeated over and over if legislatures continually test the constitutional limits on their lawmaking powers.

Judicial opinions also provide legal authority in cases that are not covered by statute. Legislatures have not passed statutes that govern every conceivable dispute. Furthermore, the language contained in statutes does not cover every possible situation. Statutes may be written in broad terms, and judicial opinions must interpret the language of relevant statutes according to the facts of the case at hand. Regulations passed by administrative agencies also fill in statutory gaps, and courts occasionally are called on to interpret regulations as well as statutes.

Courts tend to follow a few general rules in determining the meaning or scope of a statute. If a statute does not provide satisfactory definitions of ambiguous terms, courts must interpret the words or phrases according to ordinary rules of grammar and dictionary definitions. If a word or phrase is technical or legal, it is interpreted within the context of the statute. For example, the term interest can refer to a monetary charge or ownership of property. If the term interest appears in the context of a statute on real estate ownership, a court will construe the word to mean property ownership. Previous interpretations of similar statutes are also helpful in determining a statute's meaning.

Statutes are not static and irreversible. A statute may be changed or repealed by the lawmaking body that enacted it, or it may be overturned by a court. A statute may lapse, or terminate, under the terms of the statute itself or under legislative rules that automatically terminate statutes unless they are reapproved before a certain amount of time has passed.

Although most legal disputes are covered at least in part by statutes, tort and contract disputes are exceptions, in that they are largely governed by case law. Criminal Law, patent law, tax law, Property Law, and Bankruptcy law are among the areas of law that are covered first and foremost by statute.


Judicial Review; Legislation; Legislative History; Statutory Construction.


n. a Federal or state written law enacted by the Congress or state legislature, respectively. Local statutes or laws are usually called "ordinances." Regulations, rulings, opinions, executive orders and proclamations are not statutes.


noun act, canon, code, codified law, commandment, decree, dictate, edict, enactment, ius, law, legislative enactment, lex, mandate, measure, order, ordinance, provision of the law, regulation, rubric, rule, written law
Associated concepts: affirmative statute, criminal statute, declaratory statute, enabling statute, penal statute, priiate statute, remedial statute, statute of frauds, statute of limitations
Foreign phrases: Quae communi lege derogant stricte interrretantur.Statutes which derogate from the common law are to be strictly construed. Optima statuti interpretatrix est ipsum statutum. The best interpreter of a statute is the statute itself. Ex malis moribus bonae leges natae sunt. Good laws arise from evil morals. Casus omissus et oblivvoni datus dispositioni communis juris relinquitur. A case omitted and forgotten is left to the disposal of the common law. Statutum generaliter est intelligendum quando verba statuti sunt specialia ratio autem generalis. When the words of a statute are special, but the reason general, the statute is to be understood generally. Constructio legis non facit injuriam. The interpretation of the law works no injury. Ad ea quae frequentius accidunt jura adaptantur. Laws are adapted to those cases which occur. Jus constitui oportet in his quae ut plurimum accidunt non quae ex innpinato. Laws ought to be made with a view to those cases which occur most frequently, and not to those which are of rare or accidental occurrence. Nova constitutio futuris forram imponere debet non praeteritis. A new law ought to affect the future, not what is past. A verbis legis non est reeendendum. From the words of a statute there must be nodeparture. Lex posterior derogat priori. A later law takes away the effect of a prior one. Leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant. Subsequent laws repeal prior laws that are repugnant to them. Non est novum ut priores leges ad posteriores trahantur. It is not novel that prior statutes should give way to later ones. In rebus quae sunt favoraailia animae, quamvis sunt damnosa rebus, fiat aliiuando extensio statuti. In matters that are favorable to the spirit, though injurious to things, an extension of a statute should sometimes be made. Est ipsorum legislatorum tannuam viva vox; rebus et non verbis legem imponimus. The voice of the lawmakers is like the living voice; we impose law upon things and not upon words. Statutum speciale statuto speciali non derogat. One special statute does not derogate from another special statute. Statutum affirmativum non derogat communi legi. An affirmative statute does not derooate from the common law.
See also: act, authority, canon, code, codification, constitution, directive, documentation, edict, enactment, law, measure, ordinance, precept, prescription, regulation, rubric, rule


an enactment of a legislative body expressed in a formal document, such as an ACT OF PARLIAMENT.

DE DONIS, STATUTE. The name of an English statute passed the 13 Edwd. I. c. 1, the real design of which was to introduce perpetuities, and to strengthen the power of the barons. 6 Co. 40 a; Co. Litt. 21; Bac. Ab. Estates in tail, in prin.

LAW, STATUTE. The written will of the legislature, solemnly expressed according to the forms prescribed by the constitution; an act of the legislature. See Statute.

STATUTE. The written will of the legislature, solemnly expressed according to the forms prescribed in the constitution; an act of the legislature.
     2. This word is used in contradistinction to the common law. Statutes acquire their force from the time of their passage unless otherwise provided. 7 Wheat. R. 104: 1 Gall. R. 62.
     3. It is a general rule that when the provision of a statute is general, everything which is necessary to make such provision effectual is supplied by the common law; Co. Litt. 235; 2 Inst. 222; Bac. Ab. h.t. B; and when a power is given by statute, everything necessary for making it effectual is given by implication: quando le aliquid concedit, concedere videtur et id pe quod devenitur ad aliud. 12 Co. 130, 131 2 Inst. 306.
     4. Statutes are of several kinds; namely, Public or private. 1. Public statutes are those of which the judges will take notice without pleading; as, those which concern all officers in general; acts concerning trade in general or any specific trade; acts concerning all persons generally. 2. Private acts, are those of which the judges will not take notice without pleading; such as concern only a particular species, or person; as, acts relating to any particular place, or to several particular places, or to one or several particular counties. Private statutes may be rendered public by being so declared by the legislature. Bac. Ab. h.t. F; 1 Bl. Com. 85. Declaratory or remedial. 1. A declaratory statute is one which is passed in order to put an end to a doubt as to what the common law is, and which declares what it is, and has ever been. 2. Remedial statutes are those which are made to supply such defects, and abridge such superfluities in the common law as may have been discovered. 1 Bl. Com. 86. These remedial statutes are themselves divided into enlarging statutes, by which the common law is made more comprehensive and extended than it was before; and into restraining statutes, by which it is narrowed down to that which is just and proper. The term remedial statute is also applied to those acts which give the party injured a remedy, and in some respects those statutes are penal. Esp. Pen. Act. 1.
     6. Temporary or perpetual. 1. A temporary statute is one which is limited in its duration at the time of its enactment. It continues in force until the time of its limitation has expired, unless sooner repealed. 2. A perpetual statute is one for the continuance of which there is no limited time, although it be not expressly declared to be so. If, however, a statute which did not itself contain any limitation, is to be governed by another which is temporary only, the former will also be temporary and dependent upon the existence of the latter. Bac. Ab. h.t. D.
     7. Affirmative or negative. 1. An affirmative statute is one which is enacted in affirmative terms; such a statute does not take away the common law. If, for example, a statute without negative words, declares that when certain requisites shall have been complied with, deeds shall, have in evidence a certain effect, this does not prevent their being used in evidence, though the requisites have not been complied with, in the same manner as they might have been before the statute was passed. 2 Cain. R. 169. 2. A negative statute is one expressed in negative terms, and so controls the common law, that it has no force in opposition to the statute. Bro. Parl. pl. 72; Bac. Ab. h.t. G.
     8. Penal statutes are those which order or prohibit a thing under a certain penalty. Esp. Pen. Actions, 5 Bac. Ab. h.t. I, 9. Vide, generally, Bac. Ab. h.t.; Com. Dig. Parliament; Vin. Ab. h.t.; Dane's Ab. Index, h.t.; Chit. Pr. Index, h.t.; 1 Kent, Com. 447-459; Barrington on the Statutes, Boscaw. on Pen. Stat.; Esp. on Penal Actions and Statutes.
     9. Among the civilians, the term statute is generally applied to all sorts of laws and regulations; every provision of law which ordains, permits, or prohibits anything is a statute without considering from what source it arises. Sometimes the word is used in contradistinction to the imperial Roman law, which, by way of eminence, civilians call the common law. They divide statutes into three classes, personal, real and mixed.
     10. Personal statutes are those which have principally for their object the person, and treat of property only incidentally; such are those which regard birth, legitimacy, freedom, the fight of instituting suits, majority as to age, incapacity to contract, to make a will, to plead in person, and the like. A personal statute is universal in its operation, and in force everywhere.
     11. Real statutes are those which have principally for their object, property, and which do not speak of persons, except in relation to property; such are those which concern the disposition, which one may make of his property either alive or by testament. A real statute, unlike a personal one, is confined in its operation to the country of its origin.
     12. Mixed statutes are those which concern at once both persons and property. But in this sense almost all statutes are mixed, there being scarcely any law relative to persons, which does not at the same time relate to things. Vide Merl. Repert. mot Statut; Poth. Cout. d'Orleans, ch. 1; 17 Martin's Rep. 569-589; Story's Confl. of Laws, Sec. 12, et seq.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.