I Want To Be A Lawyer When I Grow Up
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.
- Ben's Guide to the Government: Sponsored by the Government Printing Office, this site defines laws and also explains how laws are made.
- How Does A Bill Become A Law?: Provided by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, this website explains how Congress makes laws.
- The United States Constitution: This page contains the U.S. Constitution, which is on display at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
- Law-4-Kids: Provided by the U.S. Navy, this page offers children an explanation of the legal system and links to other sites discussing laws.
- Landmark Supreme Court Cases: This page contains major court cases that established laws.
- How Our Laws Are Made: This page discusses how laws are made by legislative bodies.
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.
- The Jurisdiction of State and Federal Courts: This page explains the different laws that state and federal courts are authorized to make.
- Judges: On this page the Bureau of Labor Statistics explains what Judges do, including how they make laws.
- Politicians: Also provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this page explains a politician's job and how they make laws.
- State and Local Government: This page, provided by the President, discusses the rights that states have and how states are permitted to make laws.
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.
- Your Idea Becomes A Law: Provided by the State of California, this interactive game allows children to create and pass a law of their own.
- Checks and Balances: Provided by the Department of State, this page explains the system of checks and balances in the three branches of federal government.
- The ABC's of Legal Terms: Provided by the Department of Justice, this page contains definitions of major legal terms.
- How a Bill Becomes a Law in Washington State: Provided by the state of Washington, this page explains how a bill becomes a law in the state.
- Making Laws Simply Explained: Provided by the Dirksen Congressional Center, this page provides a brief explanation of how a law is made in Congress.
- Bill's Path: This worksheet explains the steps it takes for Congress to pass laws.
- What Makes A Good Rule?: Provided by Rutgers University, this worksheet provides exercises that teach how to analyze whether a law is valid.
- Introduction to Law: This page contains a sample lesson plan for teaching about laws. The page is provided by the Washington University School of Law.
- Teaching the U.S. Constitution: This page contains lesson plans and printable materials to accompany those plans for teaching grade school children about the U. S. Constitution.
- National Constitution Day: This page contains resources for teaching the Constitution.
- Congress for Kids: Making Laws: This site, provided by the Dirksen Congressional Center contains links to teaching resources about how laws are made.
- Texas Senate for Kids: Provided by the Texas State Senate, this page offers lesson plans to teach about the state's government.
- People Who Make Courts Work: Provided by the American Bar Association, this page discusses the many positions within the court system.
- Separation of Powers: Connecting the Separate Powers: Also provided by the American Bar Association, this page contains a lesson plan to teach children about the separation of powers.
- A More Perfect Union: Provided by Brigham Young University, this article provides basic information about how the Constitution was formed and how to teach about the Constitution.
- Justice Case Files: This site contains information about graphic novels written by the National Center for State Courts that teach the general public about the U.S. Legal System.
- Children's Books and Websites about the U.S. Government: Provided by the U.S. Senate, this page contains a list of children's books that discuss the government and law making process.
- The ABC's of Children's Books with Social Studies Themes: Provided by the State of Michigan, this document is a bibliography of children's books about the government and democracy.