During the past 20 years, each Congress has enacted an average of over 6,900 pages of new public laws. Because the United States Code contains only the general and permanent laws of the United States, not every provision contained in those public laws goes into the Code. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel (“OLRC”) reviews every provision of every public law to determine whether it should go into the Code, and if so, where. This process is known as U.S. Code classification.

Once a bill is passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, it is enrolled and prepared for presentment to the President. As soon as the enrolled bill becomes available, attorneys in the OLRC carefully read through it. The attorneys look for both amendments to laws already in the Code and for any non-amendatory provisions (referred to as “freestanding provisions”) that are general and permanent. If a provision amends a section or statutory note in the Code, it is classified to that section or note. For freestanding provisions, the classification decision is more challenging.

While some laws that may affect the Code are small and cover only one subject, many laws are large, cover a multitude of subjects, and contain a complicated mixture of amendatory and freestanding provisions, general and special provisions, and permanent and temporary provisions. In addition, even a single freestanding provision that is general and permanent can relate simultaneously to a number of different chapters and titles in the Code. Since freestanding provisions are not typically drafted with the Code in mind, it is primarily the responsibility of the OLRC’s classifying attorneys to determine whether and how they will be classified to the Code.

Making such a determination first involves deciding whether or not a provision is general and permanent in its nature. For example, a provision defining a certain action as a Federal crime is general while one naming a post office is not. A provision requiring an agency to submit a report to Congress every year from now on is permanent while one making a one-year appropriation is not. Deciding whether or not to include these types of provisions in the Code is simple, but making the decision in other cases can be more difficult. Is a provision implementing a free trade agreement with Jordan general in its nature? Is one establishing a new initiative scheduled to expire after 7 years permanent in its nature? Judgments must be made in cases like these, and the decision to include or not include such provisions in the Code is heavily influenced by precedent—what has been done in the past with similar provisions.

Once it has been determined that a freestanding provision should be included in the Code, the decision on where to place it depends not only on the subject matter but also on various technical considerations. If a number of related freestanding provisions in a public law are tied together with definitions, mutual cross references, or a common effective date and comprise the entire law or a distinct title of the law, those provisions would likely be classified as a new chapter at the end of the (non-positive) Code title that relates most closely to the subject matter of the provisions. If only one or two freestanding provisions from a law are to be classified to the Code, they would likely be placed somewhere within an existing chapter. The Code title being affected also dictates the placement of the freestanding provisions. Non-positive law titles can have new sections, chapters, and statutory notes added to them editorially. Positive law titles, however, can have new sections and chapters added to them only by Congress by way of a direct amendment. Therefore, a freestanding provision that belongs within a positive law title based on its subject matter will be classified as a statutory note under a section of that title.

Statutory notes are provisions from laws that are placed in the Code so as to follow the text of a Code section (or, occasionally, to precede the first section of a chapter). A statutory note can consist of as much as an entire law or as little as a clause. While the decision to classify a freestanding provision as a section or a statutory note is an editorial judgment, there are certain types of provisions that are normally classified as notes in both positive and non-positive law titles, such as effective dates, short titles, savings, and statutory construction. Statutory notes also include provisions that are somewhat less than general or less than permanent, but still relate to existing Code sections, such as those requiring studies and reports, implementation of regulations, or the establishment of a task force. For more information about statutory notes, see the Detailed Guide to the Code.

It is important to understand that whether or not a provision is classified to the Code, and if classified, whether or not it is set out as a section or a statutory note, does not in any way affect the provision's meaning or validity.

The OLRC tries to finish classifying each enrolled bill by the time it is enacted into law and assigned a public law number. Once the classifications are finalized for a bill and a public law number is assigned by the Office of the Federal Register (see Public Laws), the classifications are published in the Classification Tables on this website, and copies of the classified bills are made available to the commercial publishers of the Code, who follow them in their publications. The OLRC also provides classifications to the Office of the Federal Register for inclusion as side notes on the slip laws and in the Statutes at Large.