What’s in a name? A title by any other name is still a title, right? Well, when it comes to legislation, maybe not. If you’re new to legislation, you may be surprised to learn that there are three different kinds of “titles” to be aware of, and they each mean something different.
First of all, you may have heard people toss around the word “title” in conversations about laws. For example, someone may mention “Title IX” when talking about college sports programs. That’s because there was a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972 called the Education Amendments of 1972. The law was long and divided into major subdivisions called titles, which is what usually happens with longer federal statutes. Title IX is the part of the law that prohibits gender discrimination in educational programs and activities. There is no magic to the fact that the number is nine; that’s just where this language happened to fall within the law’s text. But since this title spurred widespread discussion both in and outside of legal circles, this portion of the law popularly became known as Title IX. Even today, some forty years later, if someone says “Title IX” without any other context, this is probably what they mean.
Okay, so you know that the United States Code contains all the current federal laws and it has 52 titles, so you decide to try this out. You go to a source that provides the United States Code–let’s say you use my favorite at http://uscode.house.gov. You see that Title 9 is about arbitration, not education or gender discrimination. You also see that Title 20 is about education. So now you’re very confused. What’s going on here?
Basically, a title in the United States Code is very different from a title in any single federal statute passed by Congress. So while Title IX’s language will be found somewhere in the United States Code, it won’t be found in Title 9. Why not?
When Congress passes a law, that law is one single law and is usually called a “public law.” The law that contains the famous Title IX is Public Law 92-318. Those numbers also mean something–it was the 318th law passed by the 92nd Congress. It is about education. When Congress passes laws, they don’t do it in any sort of order. The one they passed before this one, Pub. L. 92-317, was about fire research, while the one they passed after this, Pub. L. 92-319, was about Arkansas game and fish land release. The fact that they aren’t passed in any kind of neat topical order could make them really hard to research.
That’s why they go through a process called codification. That’s a fancy way of saying all the laws will be put into a topical arrangement and kept up-to-date so that new laws are added, amended laws are changed, and repealed laws are subtracted. And all this is done in something called a “code,” or specifically in this case, the United States Code. So, statutory codes contain a current set of laws that are arranged by topic, making statutory research much easier to deal with. The United States Code is divided into 52 titles, each covering one broad topical area.
Since Title IX was a law passed by the U.S. Congress, it is in the United States Code. But it’s not in Title 9. Don’t worry. There are tables that will take you from one to the other, letting you see where Title IX of Pub. L. 92-318 shows up in the United States Code. You just need to know that the two are not the same thing.
We’ve talked about titles of the U.S. Code and titles that are parts of public laws. But what about the third “title” in legislation? That actually refers to the name of the law, sometimes also called the popular name. Let’s go back and take a close-up look at the beginning of Pub. L. 92-318. It says “this Act may be cited as the ‘Education Amendments of 1972.'” Thus, the law is called the Education Amendments of 1972, and sometimes people will refer to that as the law’s title.
So remember–the word “title” can be used three different ways when referring to legislation. It can be confusing to figure it all out sometimes, but if you are aware of these, you can be way ahead of the game.
Now to the quiz: Where can you find Title IX of Pub. L. 92-319 in the United States Code?