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Making sense of popular names

See Table of popular names

What's in a popular name?

Laws acquire popular names as they make their way through Congress. Sometimes these names say something about the substance of the law (as with the '2002 Winter Olympic Commemorative Coin Act'). Sometimes they are a way of recognizing or honoring the sponsor or creator of a particular law (as with the 'Taft-Hartley Act'). And sometimes they are meant to garner political support for a law by giving it a catchy name (as with the 'USA Patriot Act' or the 'Take Pride in America Act') or by invoking public outrage or sympathy (as with any number of laws named for victims of crimes). History books, newspapers, and other sources use the popular name to refer to these laws. Why can't these popular names easily be found in the US Code?

How the Code is built

The United States Code is meant to be an organized, logical compilation of the laws passed by Congress. At its top level, it divides the world of legislation into fifty topically-organized Titles, and each Title is further subdivided into any number of logical subtopics. In theory, any law -- or individual provisions within any law -- passed by Congress should be classifiable into one or more slots in the framework of the Code. On the other hand, legislation often contains bundles of topically unrelated provisions that collectively respond to a particular public need or problem. A farm bill, for instance, might contain provisions that affect the tax status of farmers, their management of land or treatment of the environment, a system of price limits or supports, and so on. Each of these individual provisions would, logically, belong in a different place in the Code. (Of course, this isn't always the case; some legislation deals with a fairly narrow range of related concerns.)

The process of incorporating a newly-passed piece of legislation into the Code is known as "classification" -- essentially a process of deciding where in the logical organization of the Code the various parts of the particular law belong. Sometimes classification is easy; the law could be written with the Code in mind, and might specifically amend, extend, or repeal particular chunks of the existing Code, making it no great challenge to figure out how to classify its various parts. And as we said before, a particular law might be narrow in focus, making it both simple and sensible to move it wholesale into a particular slot in the Code. But this is not normally the case, and often different provisions of the law will logically belong in different, scattered locations in the Code. As a result, often the law will not be found in one place neatly identified by its popular name. Nor will a full-text search of the Code necessarily reveal where all the pieces have been scattered. Instead, those who classify laws into the Code typically leave a note explaining how a particular law has been classified into the Code. It is usually found in the Note section attached to a relevant section of the Code, usually under a paragraph identified as the "Short Title".

How the LII Popular Names Table works

Our Table of Popular Names is organized alphabetically by popular name. You'll find three types of link associated with each popular name (though each law may not have all three types). One, a reference to a Public Law number, is a link to the bill as it was originally passed by Congress, and will take you to the Thomas legislative system at the Library of Congress (note that this system only contains relatively recent legislation). So-called "Short Title" links, and links to the notes attached to particular sections of the Code, will lead you to a textual roadmap describing how the particular law was incorporated into the Code. Finally, links in which the name of a Code section appears followed by the phrase "et seq." indicates that the law in question was classified into the Code as a tight series of sequential sections that you can investigate by following the link.

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