The Essential Guide to Positive Law

Positive law refers to laws that are formally enacted by a legislative body, such as statutes, regulations, and executive orders. These laws are legally binding and carry authoritative weight, providing a clear and enforceable framework for governing society. Positive law is distinguished from non-positive law by its formal enactment and greater legal authority, making it the definitive source for legal interpretation and application in both Federal and State courts.

Positive Law Titles vs. Non-Positive Law Titles

The United States Code is organized into titles based on subject matter, categorized as either "positive law titles" or "non-positive law titles."

What is a Positive Law Title?

A positive law title is a title of the Code that has been enacted into law by Congress. Essentially, the title itself is a Federal statute. For example, Title 10, Armed Forces, is a positive law title because Congress has enacted it as law. You can refer to the first section of the Act of August 10, 1956 (ch. 1041, 70A Stat. 1) for its enacting provision.

What is a Non-Positive Law Title?

A non-positive law title, on the other hand, is an editorial compilation of various Federal statutes. The title itself has not been enacted by Congress, but it organizes and consolidates many separate statutes. For example, Title 42, The Public Health and Welfare, includes statutes like the Public Health Service Act and the Social Security Act, but the title itself hasn’t been enacted as a single law.

Legal Significance

The distinction between positive and non-positive law titles is crucial for their use in courts:
Non-Positive Law Titles: These are considered prima facie evidence of the law. This means the text can be used as evidence, but it can be rebutted if there is a discrepancy with the original statutes.
Positive Law Titles: These are considered legal evidence of the law in all Federal and State courts. This implies a higher level of authority and accuracy in the text, as it has Congress's approval.


Prima Facie Evidence (Non-Positive Law Titles): The statutory text in these titles can be contested by showing the wording in the underlying statute is different. The Statutes at Large, which contain the official text of all laws, take precedence if there is a conflict.
Legal Evidence (Positive Law Titles): The text in these titles is presumed to be accurate and carries Congress's authority. There’s generally no need to refer to other sources unless a technical error in publication is suspected.

Creation and Structure

Non-Positive Law Titles: These consist of multiple statutes that editors compile and organize. While the content remains the same, the organization and structure may differ from the original statutes.
Positive Law Titles: These titles are enacted by Congress as a single, cohesive law. They reflect the exact wording and structure as passed by Congress, ensuring consistency and clarity.

In summary, while both types of titles contain laws, positive law titles have a higher level of authority and are considered legal evidence of the law, whereas non-positive law titles are prima facie evidence and subject to verification against the Statutes at Large.

The Significance of Positive Law Codification

The importance of Positive Law Codification cannot be overstated:

  • Enhanced Organization: The original 1926 Code was compact and reflected the laws of that time. However, with the addition of numerous new laws, the Code has expanded into multiple volumes. Positive law codification offers a chance to streamline this vast body of law, making it more organized and adaptable for future legislation.
  • Consistency in Language: Laws in non-positive law titles may vary in drafting styles and language choices due to their enactment over a century. Positive law codification allows for a uniform restatement of laws, ensuring consistent language and modern drafting standards.
  • Elimination of Obsolete Provisions: Non-positive law titles often contain outdated provisions with expiration dates. Positive law codification provides an opportunity to remove these obsolete clauses, keeping the Code up to date and relevant.
  • Legal Authority: While non-positive law titles serve as evidence of contained statutes, positive law titles hold greater legal weight. They are considered more authoritative in both Federal and State courts, ensuring clarity and reliability in legal interpretations.
  • Resolution of Inconsistencies: Laws can sometimes conflict, duplicate, or contain ambiguities. Positive law codification helps resolve these issues by streamlining inconsistent laws, eliminating duplicates, and clarifying ambiguities for better legal understanding.
  • Simplified Navigation: Technical changes made in non-positive law titles can complicate navigation between statutes and the Code. With positive law codification, the organization and wording of the Code remain exactly as enacted by statute, simplifying transitions and ensuring clarity for users.
  • Correction of Errors: Legislative texts may contain technical errors like typos or faulty cross-references. Positive law codification provides an opportunity to rectify these mistakes, ensuring accuracy and precision in legal documents.

In essence, Positive Law Codification plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity, accessibility, and effectiveness of the United States Code, serving as a cornerstone of the nation's legal framework.

Authority for Positive Law Codification

Is established under Section 205(c) of House Resolution No. 988, 93rd Congress, enacted into law by Public Law 93-554 (2 U.S.C. 285b). This provision mandates the Office of the Law Revision Counsel to prepare and submit to the Committee on the Judiciary one title at a time, a comprehensive compilation, restatement, and revision of the general and permanent laws of the United States. The objective is to ensure that the compilation aligns with the original policy, intent, and purpose of Congress, incorporating necessary amendments and corrections to eliminate ambiguities, contradictions, and other imperfections in both substance and form. The ultimate goal is to enact each title as positive law, thereby enhancing clarity and coherence within the legal framework of the United States.

Positive Law Codification

Is a meticulous process undertaken by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel to refine existing laws into a cohesive and authoritative framework. Here's an overview of the steps involved:

  • Research and Consultation: The process begins with a thorough examination of existing laws related to the subject matter. Input is sought from various stakeholders, including federal agencies, congressional committees, legal experts, and interested individuals, to ensure accuracy and consensus in restating the laws.
  • Drafting the Codification Bill: Based on the research and consultations, a codification bill is drafted. This bill aims to improve existing laws while maintaining their original meaning and effect. Special attention is given to identifying and addressing obsolete, ambiguous, or inconsistent provisions.
  • Preparation of Explanation: Alongside the codification bill, an explanation document is prepared. This document includes a disposition table, section-by-section analysis, source credit tables, and revision notes. These components provide a comprehensive overview of the changes proposed in the bill.
  • Submission to Committee on the Judiciary: Once finalized, the codification bill and explanation are submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives for introduction. This marks the beginning of a formal review and comment period.
  • Amendment and Committee Action: Feedback received during the comment period is carefully considered, and amendments reflecting corrections and comments are prepared. The bill, along with the accompanying report, undergoes committee action before proceeding to the House of Representatives for passage.
  • Enactment and Inclusion in the Code: Upon passage by both the House and the Senate, the codification bill becomes law. The new title is officially included in the United States Code as a positive law title. Relevant information from the accompanying report, such as the disposition table and source credit tables, is incorporated into the title.

Positive law codification is a meticulous and time-consuming process, but it ensures that the laws of the United States are organized, accessible, and authoritative.


Positive law refers to laws that are enacted by a legislative body and are authoritative evidence of the law. In simpler terms, positive law is the official, legally binding version of statutes that have been passed by Congress or another legislative body. This distinction is crucial because positive law titles hold more weight in legal proceedings compared to non-positive law titles, which are compilations of statutes but do not carry the same level of legal authority. Overall, positive law provides clarity and certainty in interpreting and applying legal principles, ensuring that the law is readily accessible and enforceable.


Q: What are examples of positive law?

Examples of positive law include:

  • Statutes: Laws enacted by legislative bodies, such as the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, or municipal councils, that are codified in written statutes or codes.
  • Regulations: Rules and regulations promulgated by administrative agencies or regulatory bodies pursuant to delegated authority from the legislature.
  • Executive orders: Directives issued by the executive branch of government, such as the President of the United States or state governors, to implement or enforce specific policies or laws.
  • Judicial decisions: Legal precedents established by courts through the interpretation and application of statutes, regulations, and constitutional principles.

Q: What is the purpose of positive law?

The purpose of positive law is to provide a system of rules, norms, and procedures that govern society and regulate human conduct. Positive law serves several functions, including:

  • Maintaining order and stability: Positive law establishes a framework for resolving disputes, enforcing rights and obligations, and maintaining social order and stability within a society.
  • Protecting rights and liberties: Positive law protects individual rights and liberties by defining and safeguarding fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly.
  • Promoting justice and equity: Positive law seeks to promote justice and equity by providing mechanisms for resolving conflicts, ensuring equal treatment under the law, and upholding the rule of law.
  • Facilitating governance and administration: Positive law provides the legal framework for governance and administration, including the organization and functions of government institutions, the distribution of powers and responsibilities, and the regulation of public affairs.

Q: How is positive law created and enforced?

Positive law is created through a formal legislative or regulatory process, enforced by government authorities, and interpreted and applied by courts. The process of creating and enforcing positive law typically involves the following steps:

  • Legislative or regulatory enactment: Laws are enacted by legislative bodies through the introduction, debate, and approval of bills or regulations. Executive orders may also be issued by the executive branch of government.
  • Enforcement: Positive law is enforced by government authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, and courts, through investigations, prosecutions, and adjudication of disputes.
  • Interpretation and application: Courts interpret and apply positive law through the resolution of legal disputes and the issuance of judicial decisions, which establish legal precedents and clarify the meaning and scope of laws.