Laws and Regulations

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When judges make decisions in court, these are based on applying “the law” to the case at hand. However, this is not as simple as it sounds because there is a wide range of laws to be considered. For example:

International Laws and Treaties:
International laws and treaties regulate the interaction between independent nations. These can affect individuals in cases where, for example, the citizen of one country is living or traveling in another country. Also, if a parent is traveling internationally with his or her child but without the other parent, international laws or treaties may apply.

Common Law:
Common laws are not created by an enactment of legislatures. Rather, they are principles and rules of action which derive their authority solely from usage and custom. These usages and customs may be ancient, or judgments of the courts recognizing, affirming, and enforcing such usage and custom.

California’s Civil Code, Section 22.2, Opens new window provides that the “common law of England, so far as it is not repugnant to or inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, or the Constitution or laws of this State, is the rule of decision in all courts of this State.”

Constitutional Law: The constitution is the fundamental law of a nation or state. It establishes the character of its government, and lays the basic principles according to which the public affairs of the nation or state are to be administered.
The U.S. Constitution has 7 articles and 27 amendments.

To read the Constitution of the United States of America, click here. Opens new window

Federal Law: Federal laws, called Federal Acts, are statutes enacted by the U.S. Congress relating to matters within authority delegated to federal government by the U.S. Constitution. For example, the Patriot Act was passed after September 11, 2001, “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.”

All of the federal laws in effect are published every six years in a new edition of the United States Code. To search the U.S. Code, click here. Opens new window

The United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) includes the complete text of the United States Code, together with case notes of state and federal decisions which interpret and apply specific Code sections, cross references to related sections, historical notes, and library references. These can be found in public libraries.

Federal Regulations: Federal regulations are rules or orders issued by governmental departments to carry out the intent of the law. Because they are not the work of the legislature, in theory they do not have the effect of law. In practice, however, regulations can have an important effect in determining the outcome of cases involving regulatory activity.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the annual cumulation of executive agency regulations published in the daily Federal Register, combined with regulations issued previously that are still in effect. These are divided into 50 “titles,” each representing a broad subject area. For example, “Title 11” is the group of federal regulations about bankruptcy.

To search the Code of Federal Regulations, click here. Opens new window

State Laws: California Law consists of the State Constitution, Statues, and 29 codes, covering various subject areas.

The California State Constitution Opens new window is the fundamental law of the State. It lays the basic principles according to which the public affairs of the State are to be administered

Statute: A statute is a single law passed by the legislature. To search for California statutes, click here. Opens new window

Codes: Codes are the systematic collection of laws created by statutes. For example, there is a California Family Code, a California Vehicle Code, and a California Penal Code. To search the California Codes, click here. Opens new window

State Regulations: State regulations are rules or orders issued by governmental departments to carry out the intent of state law. As with federal regulations, state regulations are not the work of the legislature and do not have the effect of law. However, regulations can have an important effect on the outcome of cases.

To search the California Code of Regulations, click here. Opens new window

Local Ordinances: An ordinance is the equivalent of a municipal statute, passed by a city council, or equivalent body, and governing matters not already covered by federal or state law. Ordinances commonly govern zoning issues in a community, building standards, and safety matters of the municipality.

Local ordinances may be very important in unlawful detainer cases, for example, as the town or city may have rent control laws that affect the case quite substantially.

Case law: Case law is all of the previous decisions made by judges in similar cases. These form the principles that a court will normally consider when interpreting the law. This is called “legal precedent,” and is central to legal analysis and rulings.

Legal precedent is granted more or less weight in the deliberations of a court according to a number of factors.

  • Most important is whether the precedent is "on point." That is, does it deal with a circumstance identical or very similar to the circumstance in the case being considered?
  • Second, when and where was the precedent decided? A recent decision in the same jurisdiction as the case being considered will be given great weight.
  • Next in descending order would be recent precedent in jurisdictions whose law is the same as local law.
  • Least weight would be given to precedent that stems from dissimilar circumstances, older cases that have since been contradicted, or cases in jurisdictions that have dissimilar law.

Because case law is so important in California’s judicial system, there are companies whose business it is to keep track of court decisions. They publish books that reference court cases which present legal issues in an unusual way. These books can be found in public libraries and public law libraries.




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