Laws change to keep up to date with how the attitudes of society change. Technology can also be responsible for changes in the law being required. For instance, criminals finding different ways to break the law when it comes to defrauding others by using computers, and the environment finding itself polluted more by new gadgets. So, we shall consider here how laws in America have changed as the American legal system has had to adapt to societal changes.
The Common Law Origins of U.S. Law
It can be said that U.S. law evolved from common Law. This is the law that influences the process of decision-making in unusual cases where the outcome of cases is unable to be determined from the existing written rules of law or statutes. The system of U.S. common law would evolve from British tradition which would spread over to North America during the colonial period of the 17th and 18th centuries.
First Laws in America
The first law to be passed by the U.S. Congress after the ratification of its constitution was an Act to regulate the Time and Manner concerning the administration of certain Oaths. It was signed by President George Washington on the first day of June in 1789. It remains one of the laws today, demonstrating that some laws will not change.
Important Federal Laws Introduced
Some important federal laws introduced in America include:
The Pendleton Act (1883) – stopping those with federal careers from being dismissed for political associations.
The Social Security Act (1835) – to support those incapable of work.
The G.I. Bill of Rights (Serviceman’s Readjustment Act) (1944) – providing assistance, including monetary, for all WWII veterans.
The Civilian Rights Act of 1964 – to dissuade segregation of any kind.
The Patriot Act (2001) – for more powers to guard against terrorism.
No Child Left Behind Act (2001) – to reduce the funding gap between school districts.
The Privacy Act – to protect the privacy of American citizens with regards to the data that is held on them.
Freedom of Information Act – providing the right for anyone to see documents from any government establishment.
Environments Laws Introduced
The greater concern for the environment that we now all feel was felt by America in the 1970s as major legislation was introduced in this area. More than during any other decade in American history. The acts introduced included: The Clean Air Act (1970), Occupation Safety and Health Act (1970), Consumer Product Safety Act (1972), Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (1972), Clean Water Act (1972), Noise Control Act (1972), Endangered Species Act (1973), Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), Solid Waste Disposal Act (1976), Toxic Substances Control Act ( 1976), Clean Air Act Amendments (1977), and Clean Water Act Amendments (1977).
Legislation for the environment started as early as the Refuse Act in 1899 and more recently was added to by the Health Forests Initiative in 2003.
Different Laws in the Different States
If laws change and are updated this does not have to apply to the whole of America. This is because U.S. states will have different laws. That is, a state will have federal laws and state laws. Constitutional law allows each state to make and enforce additional laws that are unique to their state. Each state is considered a sovereign with the power to create laws that can change over time to satisfy the needs of the inhabitants of that individual state. This is allowed to happen because each state is considered to be unique in terms of its characteristics.
On the one hand, the fact that each state can make its laws can be considered a good thing, because how often have we thought that a chain store should not necessarily sell the same products in every one of its stores, but instead, think more of the local demand for a product? However, the disadvantages are that those travelling between states need to know the different laws within the states they are travelling to, otherwise, they might find themselves in trouble with the law just through a lack of knowledge of it. Ignorance of the law is, after all, no defence in court.
In summary, laws continue to be introduced for all American citizens and those within certain U.S. states. They have all been for the protection of Americans and society at large as much as they have created individual laws within certain states subject to their specific requirements.