Skip to main content

The Sources of Federal Law: The Legislative Branch

This LibGuide explains how laws are created by each of the three branches of the Federal government.

United States Code

After both the House of Representative and the Senate both approve a bill, it becomes part of the United States Code. The original bill is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register. Copies of the new law are distributed as "slip laws" by the Government Printing Office. The Archivist assembles annual volumes of the enacted laws and publishes them as the United States Statutes at Large. The text of the Statutes at Large and the slip laws are "legal evidence" of the laws enacted by Congress.

The United States Code makes finding statutes simpler by organizing them by subject matter in titles. The Code is maintained by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Because of this codification approach, a statute may or may not appear in a single place in the Code. When the statute is codified, its various provisions could be placed in different parts of the Code that match the subject matter covered.

Usually, the individual sections of a statute are incorporated into the Code exactly as enacted; however, sometimes editorial changes are made by the LRC.

The Federal Legislature

The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government. It is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Congress has the power to collect taxes, print money and regulate its value, punish counterfeiters, establish post offices, create roads, grant patents, create federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court, combat piracy, declare war, raise armies, create a navy, establish rules and regulations for the military, provide for, arm and discipline the militia, exercise exclusive legislation for the District of Columbia, and to make laws necessary to properly execute powers.


The House comprises of 435 voting members. Each representative votes on behalf of a congressional district. The number of representatives each state has is based on a state's population as determined by the United States Census. All 435 representatives serve a two-year term. Each state receives a minimum of one representative in the House. In order to a representative, an individual must be at least 25 years of age and must have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. There are no limits on the number of terms a representative may serve.

The Senate is made up of two senators from each state, regardless of the state’s population. Senators each serve six-year terms. Approximately one third of the Senate stands for election every two years.

The House and Senate each have particular exclusive powers. The Senate must approve many important Presidential appointments in the various government offices. All legislative bills for raising revenue must begin in the House of Representatives. The approval of both chambers is needed to pass any legislation. The powers of Congress are limited to those listed in the Constitution. The Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress the power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."