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Act of Congress

An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by the United States Government and is legally empowered by the United States Constitution. The legislation is passed, and therefore becomes federal law, when it receives a simple majority in both houses of Congress and is subsequently signed by the President. A majority of representatives in both the lower house, the House of Representatives, and the upper house, the Senate, must vote for the legislation and the President must sign it before it is declared federal law.


Paths to Promulgation

A statute or resolution adopted by both houses of Congress must pass through one of the following processes in order to become law:

  1. Signature by the President of the United States,
  2. Inaction by the President after ten days from reception (excluding Sundays) while the Congress is in session, or
  3. Reconsideration by the Congress after a Presidential veto during its session. (A bill must receive a 2/3 majority vote in both houses to override a president's veto).

The President promulgates acts of Congress made by the first two methods.[1] If an act is made by the third method, the presiding officer of the house that last reconsidered the act promulgates it.[2]

Under the United States Constitution, if the President does not return a bill or resolution to Congress with objections before the time limit expires, then the bill automatically becomes an act; however, if the Congress is adjourned at the end of this period, then the bill dies and cannot be reconsidered (see pocket veto). In addition, if the President rejects a bill or resolution while the Congress is in session, a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Congress is needed for reconsideration to be successful.

Acts of Congress that become law are published in the United States Statutes at Large. Nearly all acts are drafted as amendments to the United States Code (published by private companies for the benefit of practicing lawyers), so the United States Code will change to reflect the addition, modification, or removal of text by a particular act.

No act of Congress may violate the Constitution, nor otherwise exceed the powers granted to Congress by the Constitution. Otherwise, the United States Supreme Court can declare the act to be unconstitutional.

The judicial declaration of an act's unconstitutionality does not excise it from the United States Code. It merely implies that any further attempt to enforce the act in the courts would be futile.[citation needed] The modified statutes in the versions of the United States Code will be annotated with warnings indicating that the statute is no longer good law. But the statute will continue to be present in the Statutes at Large, and it will not disappear from the United States Code unless and until another act of Congress explicitly removes it.

Other uses

  • Also used technically for a bill that has been passed by one House of Congress.
  • An act of Congress can also refer to acts by legislative bodies called Congress elsewhere around the world like in the Philippines.
  • Sometimes used in informal speech, to indicate something for which getting permission is burdensome. As in "It takes an act of Congress to get a building permit in this town."

See also


  1. ^ "ACT" is uncapitalized unless citing the proper name of a particular Act, such as the Securities Act of 1933.[citation needed]
  2. ^ (See 1 U.S.C. § 106a, "Promulgation of laws.")
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