DETAILED GUIDE TO THE UNITED STATES CODE CONTENT AND FEATURES

DETAILED GUIDE TO THE UNITED STATES CODE CONTENT AND FEATURES

  1. In General
  2. Section Designation and Editing
  3. Source Credits
  4. Statutory Notes
  5. Editorial Notes
  6. Appendices
  7. Tables, Popular Names, and General Index
  8. Code Versions
  9. Currency and Updating
  10. Classification of Laws
  11. Positive Law Codification
  12. Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary


I. In General [top]

The United States Code ("Code") contains the general and permanent laws of the United States, arranged into 51 broad titles according to subject matter. The organization of the Code was originally established by Congress in 1926 with the enactment of the act of June 30, 1926, chapter 712. Since then, 26 of the titles, referred to as positive law titles, have been restated and enacted into law by Congress as titles of the Code. The remaining titles, referred to as non-positive law titles, are made up of sections from many acts of Congress that were either included in the original Code or subsequently added by the editors of the Code, i.e., the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, and its predecessors in the House of Representatives. Positive law titles are identified by an asterisk on the Search & Browse page. For an explanation of the meaning of positive law, see the Positive Law Codification page.

Each title of the Code is subdivided into a combination of smaller units such as subtitles, chapters, subchapters, parts, subparts, and sections, not necessarily in that order. Sections are often subdivided into a combination of smaller units such as subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, clauses, subclauses, and items. In the case of a positive law title, the units are determined by Congress in the laws that enact and later amend the title. In the case of a non-positive law title, the organization of the title since 1926 has been determined by the editors of the Code and has generally followed the organization of the underlying acts [1] as much as possible. For example, chapter 7 of title 42 sets out the titles, parts, and sections of the Social Security Act as corresponding subchapters, parts, and sections of the chapter.

In addition to the sections themselves, the Code includes statutory provisions set out as statutory notes, the Constitution, several sets of Federal court rules, and certain Presidential documents, such as Executive orders, determinations, notices, and proclamations, that implement or relate to statutory provisions in the Code. The Code does not include treaties, agency regulations, State or District of Columbia laws, or most acts that are temporary or special, such as those that appropriate money for specific years or that apply to only a limited number of people or a specific place. For an explanation of the process of determining which new acts are included in the Code, see the About Classification page.

The Code also contains editorially created source credits, notes, and tables that provide information about the source of Code sections, their arrangement, the references they contain, and their history.

The law contained in the Code is the product of over 200 years of legislating. Drafting styles have changed over the years, and the resulting differences in laws are reflected in the Code. Similarly, Code editorial styles and policies have evolved over the 80-plus years since the Code was first adopted. As a result, not all acts have been handled in a consistent manner in the Code over time. This guide explains the editorial styles and policies currently used to produce the Code, but the reader should be aware that some things may have been done differently in the past. However, despite the evolution of style over the years, the accuracy of the information presented in the Code has always been, and will always remain, a top priority.


II. Section Designation and Editing [top]

The basic unit of every Code title is the section, and the way in which Code sections are composed can differ depending on whether the section is in a positive or non-positive law title. In a positive law title, all the sections have been enacted as sections of the title and appear in the Code in the same order, with the same section numbers, and with the exact same text as in the enacting and amending acts. In other words, a positive law title is set out in the Code just as enacted by Congress.

In a non-positive law title, the text of a Code section is based on the text of a section of an act as enacted by Congress, but certain editorial changes are made to integrate the section into the Code.

A. Four common types of changes

Four common types of changes are discussed below:

Section designation. The first type of change involves changing the section number, known as the designation. Almost every provision of an act that is classified as a section of the Code is assigned a designation that differs from its act section number. For example, section 401 of the Social Security Act (act of August 14, 1935, chapter 531) is classified to section 601 of title 42. Most Code sections are based on an entire act section, but a few sections, such as section 2191b of title 22 and section 3642 of title 16, are based on less than an entire act section, and a few of the oldest Code sections, such as section 111 of title 16, are based on provisions from more than one act section. The source credit for each non-positive law section tells the reader what section or other unit of an act the Code section is based on, and, for some sections, a Codification note provides further information about the origin of the section.

Headings. The second type of change involves adding or modifying section and subsection headings. If a Code section is based on an act section that has headings, the Code will usually retain the original headings. However, in some cases, such as where there are no headings in the original act or where the section text is amended in such a way as to make the act headings inaccurate, the Code editors will provide or modify headings for the Code section.

Bracketed citations. The third type of change involves inserting bracketed citation information in the text following a cross reference. For example, in section 1440(c) of title 20, the bracketed citation “[42 U.S.C. 1396 et seq.]” was editorially inserted following a reference to title XIX of the Social Security Act. A reader can assume that almost every citation in the Code that is enclosed in square brackets (“[…]”) was added by the Code editors and was not in the original act. When statutory text contains a Code citation in parentheses, however, that citation is almost always as it appeared in the underlying act.

Translations. The fourth type of change involves changing the actual text of the original act and is known as a “translation”. Most translations involve changing a cross reference in an act into a reference to the corresponding provision in the Code or changing a reference to the date of enactment of a certain provision into that actual date. Using the example from above, what appears in act text as a reference to “section 401 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 601)” will be translated to “section 601 of title 42” when put into the Code. Similarly, if a provision has a reference to a certain task required to be completed “no later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this act” and the act was enacted on October 28, 2009, that reference will be translated to “no later than 1 year after October 28, 2009”. Other common translations include deletion of the words “United States Code” following a reference to a positive law title and substitution of references such as “this chapter” for “this Act”, “this subchapter” for “this title”, and the like, where appropriate. Often there will be References in Text notes under a section that provide further editorial explanation of the cross references found in the section text.

B. Other changes

In the past, it was the Code style to add words such as “of this subsection”, “of this section”, and “of this chapter” following references to a paragraph, subsection, or subchapter. This practice was discontinued several years ago, but these editorially added words are common throughout the non-positive law titles. The words “of this title” continue to be editorially added in the course of translating references to other sections in the same title.

Statutory notes contain features of both positive and non-positive law titles. As in positive law sections, the text of statutory notes is quoted exactly as it appears in the original act, without translations. However, as in non-positive law sections, brackets are inserted when needed to indicate editorial material, such as cross reference citations, dates of enactment, or classification information in Short Title and Effective Date notes.

The translations and editorial changes made to sections of non-positive law titles are purely technical and do not change the meaning of the law. No other changes are made to the text, except pursuant to a specific amendment or global-type amendment, such as a change of name or transfer of functions that is explained in a note under the section. Errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation in the original act are not editorially corrected in the Code. In both positive and non-positive law titles, if a statutory provision is enacted with misspelled words or duplicate or missing punctuation, it is put into the Code exactly as it was enacted, with a footnote inserted as needed to indicate the probable error.


III. Source Credits [top]

Source credits (“credits”) appear after the text of a Code section and consist of citations to each act that enacted, amended, or otherwise affected the section. With very few exceptions, source credits refer to public laws or other acts of Congress. The citation for each enacting and amending act includes the public law or chapter number [2] , division, title, and section numbers (if any), the date of enactment, and the Statutes at Large volume and page number. For example, section 1301 of title 25 is based on section 201 of title II of Public Law (“Pub. L.”) 90-284 which was enacted on April 11, 1968, and appears at page 77 of volume 82 of the Statutes at Large. The section has also been amended by subsections (b) and (c) of section 8077 of Public Law 101-511. The credit for section 1301 reads:

(Pub. L. 90-284, title II, §201, Apr. 11, 1968, 82 Stat. 77; Pub. L. 101-511, title VIII, §8077(b), (c), Nov. 5, 1990, 104 Stat. 1892.)

A. Non-positive law titles

Base law. In non-positive law titles, the first act in the source credit is almost always the “base law”. The base law is the act on which the Code section is based and of which it remains a part. In the above example of section 1301 of title 25, the base law is Public Law 90-284 because section 1301 is based on section 201 of Public Law 90-284. The base law is a feature only in non-positive law titles because in positive law titles, the sections were enacted by Congress as part of the Code title itself.

A small number of Code sections are based on sections of the Revised Statutes (which was enacted in 1874 and published with corrections in a second edition in 1878). In those cases, the credit includes a Revised Statutes section number. For example, section 1983 of title 42 is based on section 1979 of the Revised Statutes (“R.S.”) and has been amended by section 1 of Public Law 96-170 and section 309(c) of Public Law 104-317. The credit for section 1983 reads:

(R.S. §1979; Pub. L. 96-170, §1, Dec. 29, 1979, 93 Stat. 1284; Pub. L. 104-317, title III, §309(c), Oct. 19, 1996, 110 Stat. 3853.)

“As added” sections. In most cases, a Code section in a non-positive law title is based on an act section that was part of its base law when the base law was first enacted. However, it is often the case that a Code section is based on an act section that was added to its base law by a later act. When this happens, the first citation in the source credit contains the public law or chapter number of the base law, division and title (if present), and section number of the new section within that act, followed by “as added” and a citation to the act that added the section. For example, section 653a of title 42 is based on section 453A of the Social Security Act (act of August 14, 1935, chapter 531). However, the Social Security Act did not contain a section 453A when it was first enacted. Section 453A was added to title IV of the Social Security Act by Public Law 104-193 and later amended by Public Law 105-33. The source credit for section 653a reads:

(Aug. 14, 1935, ch. 531, title IV, §453A, as added Pub. L. 104-193, title III, §313(b), Aug. 22, 1996, 110 Stat. 2209; amended Pub. L. 105-33, title V, §5533, Aug. 5, 1997, 111 Stat. 627.)

The only information given about the base law is the identifying information for the act (Aug. 14, 1935, ch. 531) and the title and section number of the new section. Because the new section was not part of the base law when that law was first enacted and published, there is no Statutes at Large information provided.

Renumbered sections. Occasionally, an act section is renumbered by another act. When this happens, the source credit contains both the current section number, which always appears as the main section number in the base law, and any intermediate section numbers (if the section has been renumbered more than once). The section number following “formerly” in the base law is the original act section number when the section was first enacted. For example, section 5183 of title 42 is currently section 416 of Public Law 93-288. However, it was first enacted as section 413 of that act, and Public Law 100-707 renumbered it as section 416:

(Pub. L. 93-288, title IV, §416, formerly §413, May 22, 1974, 88 Stat. 157; renumbered §416 and amended Pub. L. 100-707, title I, §106(i), Nov. 23, 1988, 102 Stat. 4705.)

Note that the renumbering of an act section does not always trigger the renumbering of the Code section. In fact, in the interest of Code consistency, the Code editors often retain the current Code section number even though the underlying act section number has changed.

Special situations. Though uncommon, there are Code sections in non-positive law titles that are based on less than an entire act section, on two or more different acts, or on provisions that are undesignated in the original act. Sections like these can be identified by the section designation information in the citation for the base law and, in some cases, by the information provided in a Codification note.

B. Positive law titles

Source credits in positive law titles are similar to those in non-positive law titles, except that there is no base law. Instead, sections in a positive law title are part of the title itself and neither come from nor are part of any other law. The first citation in the credit is to the act that enacted the section. If the section was included in the title when the title was enacted as positive law, the act enacting the title simply appears as the first citation in the source credit with nothing before it [3] . For example, title 31 was enacted as a positive law title by Public Law 97-258. Section 304 of title 31 was included in title 31 at the time the title was enacted and therefore has Public Law 97-258 as its first citation. The section was further amended by Public Law 102-390. The source credit for section 304 reads:

(Pub. L. 97-258, Sept. 13, 1982, 96 Stat. 877; Pub. L. 102-390, title II, Sec. 225(a), (b)(1), (2), Oct. 6, 1992, 106 Stat. 1629.)

Added sections. If the section of the positive law title was not included in the title when it was enacted as positive law but was added to the title by a later act, the source credit will begin with the word “Added” followed by a citation to the act that amended the title to add the section. For example, section 1558 of title 31 was not originally part of the title when the title was enacted as positive law but was added to the title by Public Law 101-189. The section was further amended by Public Law 104-106. The credit for section 1558 reads:

(Added Pub. L. 101-189, div. A, title VIII, §813(a), Nov. 29, 1989, 103 Stat. 1494; amended Pub. L. 104-106, div. E, title LV, §5502(a), (b), Feb. 10, 1996, 110 Stat. 698, 699.)

Renumbered sections. When a section of a positive law title is renumbered, the original section number is included at the end of the first citation in the source credit and the citation to the act that did the renumbering indicates the renumbered section number. For example, section 140 of title 10 was originally added as section 137 of title 10 by Public Law 87-651. The section was renumbered as section 139 by Public Law 99-433 and renumbered again as section 140 by Public Law 103-160. The credit reads:

(Added Pub. L. 87-651, title II, §202, Sept. 7, 1962, 76 Stat. 519, §137; amended Pub. L. 88-426, title III, §305(9), Aug. 14, 1964, 78 Stat. 423; renumbered §139 and amended Pub. L. 99-433, title I, §§101(a)(7), 110(d)(11), Oct. 1, 1986, 100 Stat. 995, 1003; renumbered §140, Pub. L. 103-160, div. A, title IX, §901(a)(1), Nov. 30, 1993, 107 Stat. 1726.)

Unlike a non-positive law title, the renumbering of a section in a positive law title is by definition a renumbering of the section in the Code.

C. Source credit in context

Each act listed in the source credit affected the section in some way. Typically, the act directly amended the section, and information about the amendments made by each act can be found in editorial amendment notes under the section. Sometimes the changes are more subtle, and other editorial notes, such as Change of Name or Transfer of Functions, explain those changes made by certain laws listed in the credit.

Some acts in the credit amend a prior act that amended the section, rather than amend the section itself. Such an act is listed in the credit in the same manner as one that amended the section directly. Amendment notes or other editorial notes clarify whether an act amended the section or amended a prior amendatory act.


IV. Statutory Notes [top]

Generally speaking, a note is anything appearing after the text and source credit of a Code section. There are two main kinds of notes, statutory and editorial. Statutory notes are provisions of law that are set out as notes under a Code section rather than as a Code section. A statutory note can consist of as much as an entire act (such as Public Law 108-347 set out under 22 U.S.C. 5811) or as little as a clause (such as section 1013(a)(4)(B)(iii) of Public Law 100-647 set out under 26 U.S.C. 144). Whether a provision in an act (other than an amendment to a positive law title) appears in the Code as a section or as a statutory note is an editorial decision based on a number of factors. See the About Classification page for more information.

A. Appearance

Statutory notes typically begin with a source credit, which is similar in content and form to the source credit for a Code section. The statutory text in a note is quoted verbatim without translations, although editorial brackets are inserted when needed to assist the user in finding cross references or other information. Every note or series of related notes grouped together have a note heading that is usually, but not always, taken from the heading appearing in the statutory text. Notes are updated for amendments just as Code sections are, but amendment notes are not written. Other types of editorial notes often found following Code sections, such as Codification and References in Text notes, are also not written for statutory notes. However, a bracketed note sometimes appears after the text of a statutory note and provides important additional information about the note.

B. Types of notes

There are several categories of statutory notes. The most common are Change of Name, Effective Date, Short Title, Regulations, Construction, and miscellaneous notes. Miscellaneous notes include things like congressional findings, study and reporting requirements, and other provisions related to the subject matter of the Code section under which they appear. Notes of the same category are grouped together. Within each group, the notes are usually arranged in reverse chronological order by law, but multiple notes from the same law are put in ascending law order.

C. Bracketed classification information

In a Short Title or Effective Date note, cross references to an act or unit of an act are often followed by bracketed information indicating where the act or unit is classified to the Code. This classification information is accurate as of the date of enactment of the short title or effective date provision but is not updated to reflect any later changes in classification.

D. Paraphrased and table notes

There are some statutory notes in the Code that have a source credit followed by a paraphrase or brief description of a statutory provision instead of quoted text. These notes, some of which are contained in tables, are similar to other statutory notes in that they are based on statutory provisions, have full source credits, and are updated as appropriate for any amendments.

E. Validity of notes

A provision of a Federal statute is the law whether the provision appears in the Code as section text or as a statutory note, and even when it does not appear in the Code at all. The fact that a provision is set out as a note is merely the result of an editorial decision and has no effect on its meaning or validity.


V. Editorial Notes [top]

Most sections in the Code are followed by editorial notes. These notes are prepared by the Code editors to assist users of the Code. They provide information about the section's source, derivation, history, references, translations, effectiveness and applicability, codification, defined terms, prospective amendments, and related matters.

The following is an explanation of some of the types of editorial notes that may appear under a section:

Future Amendment notes appear in italic type and provide information about acts that amend the section effective in the future, such as on a specific future effective date, or contingent on some occurrence that has not yet happened. These notes have headings such as “Amendment of Section” and “Termination of Amendment” and usually appear immediately following the source credit.

Historical and Revision notes appear only in positive law titles and specify the laws that formed the basis of sections that were included in the title when the title was first enacted into positive law. The first act in the source credits for such a section is the act that enacted the title into positive law. The Historical and Revision notes provide information about those earlier acts and how they were reorganized into the section as it was enacted as part of the new positive law title. For most titles, the Historical and Revision notes are the reviser's notes that were contained in the congressional committee report accompanying the codification bill that enacted the title.

References in Text notes provide information about certain references contained in the text of the section. These references typically include popular names of acts such as the “Social Security Act” and names of Code units, such as “this chapter”. A References in Text note for the name of a Code unit is usually included to alert the reader that the named Code unit may not be a precise translation of the corresponding act unit appearing in the original statutory text. For example, under section 101 of title 6, there is a References in Text note that alerts the reader that “this chapter” in the Code section text is a translation of “this Act” in the original act, which is the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-296). The note explains that the Homeland Security Act of 2002 is classified “principally” to chapter 1 of title 6, which means that while most of the act is classified to chapter 1, some provisions are classified elsewhere, perhaps because they amended laws in other parts of the Code or are set out as statutory notes [4] . The reader is then advised to consult “Tables”, meaning Code Table III and the Classification Tables, for the complete classification of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to the Code.

Occasionally, a reference in section text is accompanied by the footnote “See References in Text note below”. The footnote serves to point out an erroneous or misleading reference not discernible from the reference itself.

Codification notes provide several kinds of information about a section, such as its relationship to other sections in the same chapter, its derivation, updating, or problems in the underlying acts. Some codification notes alert the reader that the section is not part of the act that comprises the chapter or other unit in which the section appears. For example, as described in the above section on References in Text notes, chapter 1 of title 6 is based on the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and the References in Text note in section 101 of title 6 explains that whenever “this chapter” appears in that section, the original statutory text reads “this Act”. Section 453a of title 6 was editorially placed in chapter 1 as well, but it is not part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Because section 453a is not part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which is what “this Act” refers to in the original text, it is likewise not considered to be part of chapter 1 for purposes of the reference to “this chapter” contained in section 101, even though section 453a is physically located within that chapter. To alert the reader to this situation, a Codification note appears under section 453a saying that the section “was enacted as part of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2004, and not as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 which comprises” chapter 1. This note is important because it tells the user to exclude section 453a from any reference to that chapter.

Prior Provisions notes indicate other sections that have had the same section number as the current section and what has since happened to them. Prior provisions notes are supplied for both prior Code sections and prior act sections that had the same section number as the current Code or act section.

Amendment notes provide explanations of how amendments have affected the section. Amendment notes are grouped by year in reverse chronological order. Within each year, the notes are arranged in order by unit of the section affected, such as subsection or paragraph. If more than one amendment affects the same unit during the year, the amendments are listed in reverse act order. Generally, an amendment note identifies the amending public law and section numbers. However, no section number is given when it can be uniquely identified from the act information already given in the source credit. If the amendment note describes an amendment as temporary, that means that the amendment was or will be undone on the date specified for its termination in the applicable effective date provision.

Subsidiary notes appear when the section is affected by a statutory provision classified elsewhere in the Code. A statutory provision equally relevant to multiple sections in the Code is nevertheless classified as a statutory note or section to only one place in the Code. Subsidiary notes are editorially placed under the other affected Code sections to alert the reader to the existence of the provision and indicate where the full text can be found. See paragraphs below for description of specific types of subsidiary notes.

Change of Name subsidiary notes indicate that there is a statutory change of name provision elsewhere in the Code that changes a name or term used in the section other than by direct amendment, such as when an act changes the name of a governmental entity and generally deems all references to the old name to be references to the new name.

Effective Date subsidiary notes indicate that there is a statutory effective date provision elsewhere in the Code that provides an effective date for the section or a particular amendment to the section. To the extent that the effective date of a provision is different from its date of enactment, subsidiary effective date notes are generally included under every section to which the statutory effective date provision applies. However, there are exceptions. If an effective date provision applies to the enactment of an entire chapter or subchapter, the effective date note will appear only under the first section of the chapter or subchapter, and no subsidiary notes will appear under the other sections. A subsidiary note is likewise usually not provided when the effective date provision applies to the enactment or amendment of a statutory note or to the amendment of analysis material (i.e., tables of contents) in positive law titles.

Transfer of Functions subsidiary notes indicate that there is a provision (from an act or a Presidential document) elsewhere in the Code that transfers duties originally assigned to be performed by one official or entity to a different official or entity.

Definitions subsidiary notes indicate that there is a statutory provision elsewhere in the Code that defines a term used in the section. Definitions subsidiary notes do not appear for terms occurring in section text that are defined within the same unit of the Code, such as a chapter or subchapter, and do not exist for some definition provisions that are more than 15 years old.


VI. Appendices [top]

There are five appendices in the Code. The appendices to titles 11, 18, and 28 mostly contain Federal court rules. The appendix to title 5 contains freestanding laws that relate to the subject matter of title 5 but were not incorporated into that title by Congress. The appendix to title 50 contains freestanding laws that relate to the subject matter of title 50 but were probably thought to be inappropriate to that title because of their specificity or duration. Sections in the appendices to titles 5 and 18 retain their act section numbers while those in the appendix to title 50 have been assigned different Code section numbers. Translations are not made in the appendices. The fact that an act is included in an appendix does not affect its meaning or validity.


VII. Tables, Popular Names, and General Index [top]

A. Classification Tables

The Classification Tables show where recently enacted laws will appear in the Code and which sections of the Code have been amended by those laws.


B. Tables I to VI

Table I—Revised Titles. Table I indicates where provisions of certain former titles have been incorporated when those titles were enacted as positive law since the original adoption of the Code in 1926.

Table II—Revised Statutes 1878. Table II indicates where sections of the Revised Statutes of the United States of 1878, the first codification of acts of Congress, have been classified to the Code.

Table III—Statutes at Large. Table III lists provisions of public laws that have been classified to the Code at any time, starting from the First Congress in 1789.

Table IV—Executive Orders. Table IV indicates where provisions from Executive Orders appear in the Code.

Table V—Proclamations. Table V indicates where provisions from Presidential Proclamations appear in the Code.

Table VI—Reorganization Plans. Table VI lists reorganization plans that have been classified to the Code at any time.


C. Popular Names Table

The Popular Names Table lists acts of Congress in alphabetical order by popular or statutory name.


D. General Index

In the print version of the Code, the General Index provides an alphabetical listing of subjects and the Code title and section where each subject is addressed. The General Index does not appear in the online version of the Code.


VIII. Code Versions [top]

For information about the various online and printed versions of the Code, see the About the Code page.


IX. Currency and Updating [top]

For information about the currency of the Code data on this website, see the Currency and Updating page.


X. Classification of Laws [top]

For an explanation of how laws are classified to the Code, see the About Classification page.


XI. Positive Law Codification [top]

For information about positive law codification and current projects to enact new titles of the Code into positive law, see the Positive Law Codification page.


XII. Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary [top]

For frequently asked questions about the Code and a glossary of terms used in the Code and on this website, see the FAQ page.



[1]  “Act” is used throughout this guide to refer to a bill or joint resolution that has passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and has been signed into law by the President, or passed over the President's veto, thus becoming a law.

[2] Laws enacted during and after 1957 are cited by public law number. Laws enacted before 1957 are cited by the date of enactment of the law and the Statutes at Large chapter number assigned to it.

[3] When a positive law title is enacted in stages by several codification acts, this style of credit is used for each of those acts.

[4] In contrast, when an act is classified as a whole to a chapter in the Code, it is said to be classified “generally” to that chapter. No References in Text note appears for the translation of “this Act” to “this chapter” because no further explanation about the translation is needed.