Authored by LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

I Want To Be A Lawyer When I Grow Up

I Want To Be A Lawyer When I Grow Up: Law Education For Kids

Laws determine what a person can and cannot do. They are created by the U.S. legal system, which includes lawyers, judges, Congressmen and even the President. The process of making, instituting and enforcing laws requires years of work by hundreds of different people, which makes the legal system is quite complex. Because laws impact every person in the U.S., it is important for children to know basic information about laws, their creation and what happens when they are broken.

What are Laws?

Laws are rules which state what an individual, group or company can or cannot do. A law that states what can be done is considered a positive law while a law that states what cannot be done is considered a negative law. Both types of laws are equally valid and enforceable, the label of positive or negative typically only matters when writing the law or arguing if the law was broken. Laws can also be either civil or criminal. The difference between the two types of laws is determined by the type of punishment. If a criminal law is violated an individual may be put into prison. In contrast, if a civil law is violated, an individual will pay a fine or perform another action to undo the damage they caused. Any action which is not governed by a particular law is considered legal; an action which is prohibited by a law is considered illegal. If a person breaks a law he therefore acts illegally and could be brought to court to be punished for his actions.

Who Makes the Laws?

The group of people responsible for making laws depends on the type of law. State laws are created by the state's legislature or other governing body, such as the governor. Federal laws are mainly made by Congress, but the President can also make laws. Any member of Congress can propose a law, but that does not guarantee that it will be approved by other Congressional members.

Courts also have the ability to make laws. Each state has a court system that handles violations of state laws. The most important state court is typically the state's supreme court. The federal government also has a court system which handles violations of federal laws, which are laws that every U.S. citizen must follow. The United States Supreme Court, located in Washington, D.C., is the most important federal court. Both court systems have many different types of courts which review the laws by other courts to determine whether they are valid.

How Are Laws Made?

The process of a legislative body making laws consists of three steps: introducing the type of law, debating the law's contents and voting on the proposed law. This process can take years to complete, and could be made even longer by the amount of time it will take for the law to go into effect. Many laws do not go into effect until a year after being voted upon. This extra time is intended to allow courts and police officers to prepare for the new law.

Courts make laws through a different process. By making a decision in a court case, courts create a new law. For example, a judge's ruling that it is illegal to record a conversation with another individual without them knowing is a law. This law will be applied to every other case involving an unauthorized recording.

Laws cannot violate the U.S. Constitution or the state's constitution. If a law violates either constitution it will be declared invalid and not enforced. The process of making a law invalid takes several years and is usually debated in court. Federal laws believed to be invalid are reviewed by federal courts. However, state laws believed to be invalid can be argued either in state or federal court, depending on the violation.

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