Most of us at some point in our early education had a Civics class that taught us about the branches of government and the laws we are all bound to follow. When learning about statutes passed by Congress (usually in conjunction with a screening of Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill”), we learned about the 50 Titles of the US Code. No more! After decades of the standard 50 titles we’ve come to know, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel recently began adding new titles to our federal codification of laws. Ordinarily, reorganizations of the code involve moving existing laws to other (existing) titles, or renumbering sections within existing titles. However, recently the OLRC has determined that, to best organize statutes within the code, creating a few new titles is in order. Changes began in 2010 with Title 51 – National and Commercial Space Programs. On September 1st, 2014, the second new title came into effect: Title 52 – Voting & Elections. And they’re not stopping there! There are even more new titles in the works: Title 53 – Small Business, Title 54 – National Park System, and Title 55 – Environment. It’s important to understand that, even when new titles are created, this does not mean they are filled with new laws; instead, the OLRC is reorganizing the code by pulling existing laws on a subject and placing them together for easier reference; laws on the same topic are often spread among different titles, so by creating a new title, it becomes much easier for researchers to access all the laws on a subject.
Even more interesting is the process of approving the creation of these two recent title additions to the U.S.C. Title 51 is a positive law title, meaning that the title itself was statutorily enacted. This follows the same process as any other statute traveling through Congress: the OLRC presents the proposed title to the House Judiciary Committee, there’s a notice and comment period, the House approves the bill, and the Senate must approve the bill. For more information on the positive law codification process for new titles, the OLRC has created a helpful brochure. In contrast, Title 52 is not a positive law title. The OLRC has editorial reclassification privileges when parts of the Code outgrow their existing titles. In this case, the volume of statutes pertaining to voting and elections has vastly grown over the years, and the OLRC determined that a new title was required to make room. The difference between positive and non-positive law is subtle. Essentially, statutes within a positive law title are reorganized verbatim – they constitute legal evidence in a court of law; in contrast, statutes that have been reorganized into a non-positive law title are only considered prima facie evidence of the law.
You can learn more about the OLRC (and browse the U.S.C. online) by visiting their website.