There is a vast amount of federal law. So much that no one can hope to keep it all in mind, much less master the mass of it. But it was not always so. The current universe of federal law did begin with a bang, although not a big one. It began with a Constitution on four parchment pages, followed by a Bill of Rights on one more.[FN1] But the Constitution begat Congress, and Congress begat statutes –– lots and lots of statutes –– the current version of them fills 45,000 pages of the United States Code.[FN2] Those statutes begat hundreds of administrative agencies, and many of those agencies begat regulations –– lots and lots of them. So many that the Code of Federal Regulations fills 235 volumes and is 175,000 pages long, give or take a few thousand pages.[FN3] As the number of statutes and regulations has multiplied exponentially, so has decisional law. Supreme Court decisions fill 573 volumes of the official United States Reports, while federal court of appeals decisions fill 2,000 or so volumes of the Federal Reporter series.
Truly, federal laws have multiplied to become “beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.”[FN4] Charting a course through this universe of federal law, which is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate, can be difficult. Attorneys and judges sometimes overlook a statutory provision, a regulation, or a decision that directly controls a case. We have all done it occasionally. It happened in this case.
1. The parchment pages containing the Constitution are 28 and 3/4 inches by 23 and 5/8 inches. The Bill of Rights parchment page is 28 and 1/2 inches by 28 and 1/4 inches.
2. This number is based on the 2012 edition of the United States Code, excluding volumes 35 through 41 (which contain conversion tables and indices) and annual supplements.
3. Those numbers are based on the latest official statistics from the Office of the Federal Register. See Office of the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations – Total Pages 1938 Through 1949, and Total Volumes and Pages 1950 Through 2013, https://www.federalregister.gov/uplo...1-1-1-2013.pdf
(last visited Jan. 27, 2015).
4. Genesis 22:17 (New Living Translation); see also Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye 315 (Vintage Books 1988) (1953) (“[Lawyers] write the laws for other lawyers to dissect in front of other lawyers called judges so that other judges can say the first judges were wrong and the Supreme Court can say the second lot were wrong. Sure there’s such a thing as law. We’re up to our necks in it.”)
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