The following is a guest post by Shameema Rahman, senior legal research specialist in our Public Services Division
This has been an interesting month. I have answered a number of unique inquiries from our researchers and one of them was kind enough to allow me to share her question with you. She asked if I could give her the Statutes at Large citation for the law stating that where there is a difference between the U.S. Code and the Statutes at Large, the Statutes at Large controls. She mentioned that she had read this law, but could not find it again.
She knew the difference between the Statutes at Large and the United States Code. If you would like to review the difference between the two, please visit our Beginner’s Guide on the topic. I turned to the first edition of the U.S. Code. Title I contains the Act of June 30, 1926, ch. 712, 44 Stat. 1, § 2(a), which states:
[T]he matter set forth in the Code, evidenced as hereinafter in this section provided, shall establish prima facie the laws of the United States, general and permanent in their nature, in force on the 7th day of December, 1925; but nothing in this act shall be construed as repealing or amending such law, or as enacting as new law any matter contained in the Code. In the case of any inconsistency arising through omission or otherwise between the provisions of any section of this Code and the corresponding portion of legislation heretofore enacted effect shall be given for all purposes whatsoever to such enactments.
So what does prima facie mean? According to Black’s Law Dictionary, prima facie evidence establishes a fact or sustains a judgment unless contradictory evidence is produced. In other words, the language in the United States Code may be challenged with contradictory evidence—here, the Statutes at Large.
So, does this mean the Statutes at Large always controls when there is an inconsistency with the U.S. Code? Not quite. In 1947, the House took up the first bills to enact several titles of the U.S. Code into positive law. The language in Title I has been updated to clarify the effect of the enactment of certain Titles of the U.S. Code into positive law. 1 U.S.C. § 204(a) states:
The matter set forth in the edition of the Code of Laws of the United States current at any time shall, together with the then current supplement, if any, establish prima facie the laws of the United States, general and permanent in nature, in force on the day preceding the commencement of the session following the last session the legislation of which is included: Provided, however, That whenever titles of such Code shall have been enacted into positive law the text thereof shall be legal evidence of the laws therein contained, in all the courts of the United States , the several States, and the Territories and insular possessions of the United States.
Underneath 1 U.S.C. § 204, there is a listing of which titles of the U.S. Code have been enacted into positive law.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, legal evidence consists of all admissible evidence, both oral and documentary, of such a character that it reasonably and substantially proves the point rather than merely raising suspicion or conjecture. Put simply, where the U.S. Code title has been enacted into positive law, that U.S. Code title will trump the corresponding Statutes at Large.
That said, this is all a fairly academic discussion, since the chance of finding an inconsistency between the Statutes at Large and the United States Code is unlikely due to the hard work of our friends at the House Office of Law Revision Counsel and Government Printing Office.
Update: This post was substantially updated on July 17, 2014.