Act of Congress

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An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by Congress. Acts can affect only individual entities (called private laws), or the general public (public laws). For a bill to become an act, the text must pass through both houses with a majority, then be either signed into law by the president of the United States or receive congressional override against a presidential veto.


Public law, private law, designation

Private Law 86-407 Private Law 86-407.jpg
Private Law 86–407
Part of Public Law 86-90 Page 212 from STATUTE-073-1-2 Public Law 86-90.pdf
Part of Public Law 86–90

In the United States, Acts of Congress are designated as either public laws, relating to the general public, or private laws, relating to specific institutions or individuals. Since 1957, all Acts of Congress have been designated as "Public Law X–Y" or "Private Law X–Y", where X is the number of the Congress and Y refers to the sequential order of the bill (when it was enacted). [1] For example, P. L. 111–5 (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) was the fifth enacted public law of the 111th United States Congress. Public laws are also often abbreviated as Pub. L. No. X–Y.

When the legislation of those two kinds is proposed, it is called public bill and private bill respectively.


The word "act", as used in the term "Act of Congress", is a common, not a proper noun. The capitalization of the word "act" (especially when used standing alone to refer to an act mentioned earlier by its full name) is deprecated by some dictionaries and usage authorities. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] However, the Bluebook requires "Act" to be capitalized when referring to a specific legislative act. [9] The United States Code capitalizes "Act".

The term "Act of Congress" is sometimes used in informal speech to indicate something for which getting permission is burdensome. For example, "It takes an Act of Congress to get a building permit in this town."

Promulgation (United States)

An act adopted by simple majorities in both houses of Congress is promulgated, or given the force of law, in one of the following ways:

  1. Signature by the president of the United States,
  2. Inaction by the president after ten days from reception (excluding Sundays) while the Congress is in session, or
  3. Reconsideration by the Congress after a presidential veto during its session. (A bill must receive a 23 majority vote in both houses to override a president's veto.)

The president promulgates Acts of Congress made by the first two methods. If an act is made by the third method, the presiding officer of the house that last reconsidered the act promulgates it. [10] [ failed verification ]

Under the United States Constitution, if the president does not return a bill or resolution to Congress with objections before the time limit expires, then the bill automatically becomes an act; however, if the Congress is adjourned at the end of this period, then the bill dies and cannot be reconsidered (see pocket veto). In addition, if the President rejects a bill or resolution while the Congress is in session, a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Congress is needed for reconsideration to be successful.

Promulgation in the sense of publishing and proclaiming the law is accomplished by the president, or the relevant presiding officer in the case of an overridden veto, delivering the act to the archivist of the United States. [11] After the archivist receives the act, he or she provides for its publication as a slip law and in the United States Statutes at Large. [12] [13] Thereafter, the changes are published in the United States Code.

Judicial review and constitutionality

Through the process of judicial review, an Act of Congress that violates the Constitution may be declared unconstitutional by the courts. The judicial declaration of an act's unconstitutionality does not remove the law from the statute books; rather, it prevents the law from being enforced. However, future publications of the act are generally annotated with warnings indicating that the statute is no longer valid law.

See also

Related Research Articles

United States Code Official compilation of US federal statutes

The Code of Laws of the United States of America is the official compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal statutes of the United States. It contains 53 titles. The main edition is published every six years by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives, and cumulative supplements are published annually. The official version of those laws not codified in the United States Code can be found in United States Statutes at Large.


A veto is the power to unilaterally stop an official action, especially the enactment of legislation. A veto can be absolute, as for instance in the United Nations Security Council, whose permanent members can block any resolution, or it can be limited, as in the legislative process of the United States, where a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate will override a presidential veto of legislation. A veto may give power only to stop changes, like the US legislative veto, or to also adopt them, like the legislative veto of the Indian President, which allows him to propose amendments to bills returned to Parliament for reconsideration.

Promulgation is the formal proclamation or the declaration that a new statutory or administrative law is enacted after its final approval. In some jurisdictions, this additional step is necessary before the law can take effect.

A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver that allows a president or another official with veto power to exercise that power over a bill by taking no action instead of affirmatively vetoing it. This depends on the laws of each country; the common alternative is that if the president takes no action a bill automatically becomes law.

Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), was a United States Supreme Court case ruling in 1983 that the one-house legislative veto violated the constitutional separation of powers.

In the United States Congress, a joint resolution is a legislative measure that requires passage by the Senate and the House of Representatives and is presented to the President for his approval or disapproval. Generally, there is no legal difference between a joint resolution and a bill. Both must be passed, in exactly the same form, by both chambers of Congress, and signed by the President to become a law. Only joint resolutions may be used to propose amendments to the United States Constitution and these do not require the approval of the President. Laws enacted by joint resolutions are not distinguished from laws enacted by bills, except that they are designated as resolutions as opposed to Acts of Congress.

Archivist of the United States Chief official of the National Archives and Records Administration

The Archivist of the United States is the head and chief administrator of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States. The Archivist is responsible for the supervision and direction of the National Archives.

Presentment Clause United States Constitutional clause governing how bills are passed into laws by Congress

The Presentment Clause of the United States Constitution outlines federal legislative procedure by which bills originating in Congress become federal law in the United States.

Title 1 of the United States Code outlines the general provisions of the United States Code.


  1. "About Bills, Resolutions, and Laws". LexisNexis. 2007. Retrieved September 4, 2008. About Public Laws
  2. Archived March 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 20th ed., Rule R8(c)(ii) (Cambridge: The Harvard Law Review Association, 2015), 92.
  9. See 1 U.S.C.   § 106a, "Promulgation of laws".
  10. 1 U.S.C.   § 106a, "Promulgation of laws".
  11. 1 U.S.C.   § 113, "'Little and Brown's' edition of laws and treaties; slip laws; Treaties and Other International Acts Series; admissibility in evidence".
  12. 1 U.S.C.   § 112, "Statutes at Large; contents; admissibility in evidence".