The "Law of the Land" within the United States is the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments (1-10, and 11-27) from which all government authority and laws arise. All rights not expressly granted to the government are reserved to the people, such as, but not limited to, the rights delineated in the first ten amendments of the Constitution, otherwise known as the "Bill of Rights".
The U.S. Constitution is not, as some individuals mistakenly believe, a document granting rights to citizens, because it presupposes that essential individual rights, namely those to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are not government's, nor any other authority's save God's alone, to grant. Citizen rights are thus referred to as inalienable or natural rights inherent to all mankind. While governments can attempt to undermine, or even violate these rights, they can never grant them.
In the course of over two centuries, America's painful but inspiring struggle has been to implement government of, by, and for the people: one that preserves the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens while holding each accountable for their actions; one that upholds the rule of law, yet demands that all those enacting or enforcing the law answer to the people. This delicate but self-regulating balance of individual interests against collective ones underlies the unique saga of America.
Statutes, Regulations, and Policy Materials
The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1926, the United States Code has been published every six years. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published in order to present the most current information.
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government. It is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation. Each volume of the CFR is updated once each calendar year and is issued on a quarterly basis.
Policy Materials published by federal agencies are not laws, but may clarify and even influence how laws are applied. Typical policy materials include internal agency operating manuals, and even written opinions that agencies issue to explain decisions they’ve made. Examples of such materials include the Foreign Affairs Manual (U.S. State Dept.); the OSHA Field Inspection Manual (Dept. of Labor); the CIS Operating Instructions (Dept. of Homeland Security); and the Program Operations Manual (Social Security Agency). These provide valuable insights into how each agency actually operates 'in the field'. Case Law, Court Rules, & Secondary Source Materials
U.S. case law is law made by judges, who generally sit on federal appellate courts such as the U.S. Circuit Courts and Supreme Court (as opposed to trial courts) or Administrative Boards. In creating case rulings, judges apply--or interpret--relevant statutes, regulations, and prior case law. Occasionally judges have the daunting task of applying statutes and regulations to factual situations that no legislator could have ever conceived of when the law was enacted. Such cases may lead to a public perception that the court is itself writing new law.
Case law in the United States is published in books called “reporters.” Federal reporters typically publish cases from either a distinct government unit, or from a limited geographical area. For example, U.S. District Court cases from the south western area are published in the "S.W. Reporter", while Appelate or Circuit Court cases are published in the "Federal Reporter". Decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals are published as bounded reports in "Administrative Decisions Under I&N Laws".
Court rules are procedures which must be followed in conducting the business before the federal courts. In addition to following national civil and criminal procedures, most courts also publish their own local operating rules.
Secondary sources are materials such as books or law review articles that purport to explain or analyze the law. While judges and attorneys often find these materials useful in deciding cases, secondary sources do not carry any explicit legal authority because they are not published by law-making bodies bodies.. They are frequently written by practicing attorneys or law professors for others practicing in their field. However, many websites now offer secondary source materials written specifically for lay people.