Yes, they make many people cry. Like ogres in the movie Shrek, laws are like onions because they have layers. In order to fully understand how laws are interpreted, you have to understand the layers.
Federalist System of Laws
Our country is a federalist system of governance. This means that there is a Federal system, but there are also the separate states. The United States Constitution provides that all areas of law not specifically given to the Federal Government by the Constitution belong to the states individually. By and far, this is the hardest part to understand about our legal system because there are many areas states and the Federal government overlap.
Many areas, such as criminal laws, appear to be squarely within the states’ purview; however, when crimes go across state lines, or amount to certain federal crimes, then the federal government takes over. Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents are all federal, but like all areas, there are exceptions there too, as states have their own trademark systems.
There’s also regulatory law versus statutory law. Governmental departments create Regulatory law. Each department has some control over areas of the law. The regulations cannot exceed the power given to these departments by statute.
In each system, the highest form of law is the Constitution. The United States Constitution trumps all other areas of law, as it is the “Supreme Law of the Land.”. Each state also has their own constitutions, which become the supreme law of anything interpreted under that specific state’s laws. This is a huge part of where the Federalist system comes into play. Determining choice of law is sometimes an incredible battle in the courts because it makes a huge difference in the outcome.
Common Law and Statutes
Courts create common law. Statutes, on the other hand, can only be so specific. Since statutes cannot cover every possible scenario, the courts have to step in and make more specific rulings, or on occasion, rule that statutes are unconstitutional. Contracts are governed by common law and statutes. Unenforceable provisions or those against public policy may arise from statutes or common law.
Exceptions and Laws
It wouldn’t be the law if there weren’t exceptions. As you work through every layer, you’ll find there is a rule, and there are exceptions to that rule. The best legal minds know how to quickly look for exceptions within exceptions. It is easy to get lost in this rabbit’s hole. Most exceptions even have exceptions because that is what the analysis of law is all about.