In the United States, what fragment of codified federal or state law can I refer to as a "statute"? For example, in federal law, is it proper to use the word "statute" to refer to:

  • a title (e.g., 15 U.S.C.)?
  • a section (e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 6802)?
  • a subsection (e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 6802(b), 15 U.S.C. § 6802(b)(1), etc.)?
  • some of the above?
  • all of the above?
  • 1
    This is a good question for starting an unwinnable argument amongst law students. Sep 7, 2016 at 8:24

3 Answers 3


My summary

Statute has a pretty broad meaning. It means legislative law. It isn't generally used to refer to an entire Title of U.S.C., only sections and subsections (i.e. I don't see people saying "the copyright statute, 17 U.S.C, ...") It wouldn't be wrong, but it isn't common. 17 U.S.C is statutory law.

Black's Law Dictionary

From Black's Law Dictionary defines "statute" broadly as:

A law passed by a legislative body; specif., legislation enacted by any lawmaking body, including legislatures, administrative boards, and municipal courts. The term act is interchangeable as a synonym.

Black's Law Dictionary has several sub-categories of statute. For example:

Compiled statutes: Laws that have been arranged by subject but have not been substantively changed

Black's Law Dictionary also includes "statute book":

A bound collection of statutes, usu. as part of a larger set of books containing a complete body of statutory law, such as the United States Code Annotated.

Usage examples

In United States v. James 478 U.S. 597 (1986), the court refers to a subsection of U.S. Code as "a statute":

... the Federal Government was immune from damages under 33 U.S.C § 702c, a statute left unrepealed by by the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Scalia and Garner refer to an Act as a statute at page 253 of Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts:

... another statute, the Offenses Against the Person Act, ...

In Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp. 353 U.S. 222 (1957), the Supreme Court refers to both a section of the Judicial Code and a section of U.S.C. as statutes.

The question here, then, is simply whether there has been a substantive change in that statute since the Stonite case. If there has been such change, it occurred in the 1948 revision and recodification of the Judicial Code. [Footnote 5] At the time of the Stonite case, the venue provisions of that statute (§ 48 of the 1911 Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. (1940 ed.) § 109) read ...

They also talk about assessing whether the statute changed over time. If "statute" was limited to only meaning a particular act passed by Congress, it wouldn't make sense to consider change over time.


None of the things listed are statutes. They are all parts of or compilations of parts of statutes.

A 'statute' is a document issued by an official body, such as Congress, which contains a law or command.

'USC' refers to the United States Code, which is a compilation of statutory law. It is not the law. It is prima facie evidence of the law, but may be proven to be wrong.

The 'statute' is the Act passed by Congress. These can be found in the United States Statutes at Large.

For example, the Labor Management Relations Act 1947 (Public Law 80–101, 61 Stat 136, also known as the Taft–Hartley Act) is a statute, passed by Congress on 23 June 1947. It is codified at (i.e. a reasonably reliable copy of the provisions of the Act, taking into account subsequent amendments, can be found at) 29 USC s 401-531. But 29 USC is not a statute in any sense of the word.

To use a particularly 'meta' example: 1 USC 204(a) codifies the rule that the USC is prima facie evidence of the state of the law of the United States, but the statute which made this rule is Public Law 80-278, 61 Stat 633 ('An Act to codify and enact into positive law, title 1 of the United States Code, entitled "General Provisions"'), which consists of a slab of text copied out of the United States Code as it then stood. So Congress does sometimes enact parts of the Code; but the Code itself is not a statute.

  • 1
    Please leave comments on a downvote. Sep 7, 2016 at 8:25
  • 1
    I didn't downvote this, but the answer splits hairs pretty thinly and doesn't appear to be in step with actual usage.
    – Pat W.
    Sep 8, 2016 at 2:09

A statute is a law that is passed by a legislative body, in contrast to common law made my judges. It can refer to any of the examples you have given.

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