Laws, Legislation and Legal Text


My legal and “legislative” writing follows the format and guidelines of the Plain Writing Act of 2010 which are Federal Guidelines for clear communications to the public. The guidelines are required because within US Law, there is the concept of legal competence. This concept also exists in Canada and is being implemented in the UK with other nations monitoring the development of expanding the concept globally.

Usually the term legal competence refers to being mentally capable or being mentally able to understand legal proceedings and court documents. If someone is unable to understanding legal proceedings or court documents due to the complexity of language, then under international law, the US runs the risk of being considered a dictatorship or having a government that has instituted tyrannical nepotism.

Without plain writing, having completed public schooling and being literate to an 8th grade level no longer defines someone as legally competent. Many legal contracts and court proceedings are based on laws that are at least 600 years old and these laws can go back even further in certain situations. Under due process, defined in the 5th amendment of the US Constitution, a US Citizen can not be deprived of liberty or property without due process. Not understanding the court proceedings, that something is illegal or being able to present an oral argument to the court on why they believed that their acts or behaviour were lawful would violate a US Citizen’s due process rights within any court (federal, state, county or municipal) inside the United States.

For these reasons, the Federal Government has made a recommendation to Congress that they also use plain language in Congressional Bills, Public Laws and Voting Ballots and require State Legislatures to do the same. It is imperative that Laws be written in a clear and comprehensive language in order for the Federal Government to be able to properly train their workforce or proper procedures for enforcing laws, to effectively prosecute people for crimes they have committed and to present evidence to the courts without the need for US Attorneys to hold their hand throughout each step of the court procedure.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is also referred to as The Plain Language Act due to miscommunications. However the correct name of the legislation is The Plain Writing Act of 2010. Public Law 111-274 is not defined in the US Code which is problematic because the Congressional Public Law Directory only contains Public Laws from the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) to present in a web accessible format. However, the Library of Congress (LOC) does have a directory of Congressional Sessions from the 1st Congress (1789-1791) to the 81st Congress (1949-1950) in searchable PDF format which is a good interim solution. LOC then refers to the Government Printing Office for Congressional Sessions of the 83rd Congress (1951-1952) to the 112th Congress (2010-2011). The Government Printing Office is different the the Government Publishing Office and there are discussions about merging the two offices together and what would the National Archives and Library of Congress role be going forward.

Even though the Public Law 111-274 is not defined in the US Code, it is a Law within the United States. All Public Laws passed by Congress are valid and active legislation and enforceable by the US Federal Government. It is believed that Public Law 111-274 is passed under authorizations of US Code Title 5, Chapter 3, Sub Chapter I, section 301. US Code Title 5 § 301 mentions that the section does not authorize withholding information from the public or limiting access to information from the public since doing so would again compromise the ability for people living in the United States to have legal competence.

I find Justia, easier to navigate and easier to read due to the formatting so include a link for the US Code here as well for comparison. The US Code is also replicated on the Cornell Legal Information Institute Web Portal and by the Government Printing Office.

  • US Code Chapter 5 § 301 by US House of Representatives (https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title5-section301&num=0&edition=prelim)
  • US Code Chapter 5 § 301 by Government Printing Office (https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCODE-2018-title5/USCODE-2018-title5-partI-chap3-subchapI-sec301)
  • US Code Chapter 5 § 301 by Justia (https://law.justia.com/codes/us/2018/title-5/part-i/chapter-3/subchapter-i/sec-301/)
  • US Code Chapter 5 § 301 by Cornell LII (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/301)

You can compare all 4 websites and decide which one you want to use. You should always refer to the US Code on the House of Representatives website and reference the URI on that website when writing to your Congressional Representatives because that is the official code. The Government Printing Office provides a backup in case there is maintenance on the House of Representatives web server that causes the site to be temporarily unavailable. In cases where the House of Representatives website is down, gather the list of Laws in question and obtain the official URL when the website is available.

US Code and US Public Laws

  • US Code by US House of Representatives (https://uscode.house.gov/)
  • Us Code How to Guide by the US Senate (https://www.senate.gov/legislative/HowTo/how_to_us_code.htm)
  • Congressional Public Law Directory – 93rd Congress to Current (https://www.congress.gov/public-laws/)
  • Government Printing Office Statutes at Large – 82nd Congress to 112th Congress (https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/STATUTE/)
  • Library of Congress Statutes at Large  – 1st Congress to 81st Congress (https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/)
  • US Government Publishing Office – https://www.gpo.gov/

Legal Dictionaries

Definition of word competence (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/competent)

The two main legal dictionaries in common use Black’s Law Dictionary and the Nolo Plain Language Dictionary. The 2nd Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary is currently available at no cost online through various websites and is from 1910. This is sufficient as some legislation uses English words that were prevalent between the 1600s and 1800s. Even in cases were the words are still in use, the meaning of the words may have changed so it’s good to have the 2nd edition available to the public in the interim. Blacks Law Dictionary is currently in its 11th Edition, published in 2019; and recommended for attorneys, lawyers, diplomats, consuls and foreign heads of state. It is available from Reuters.

Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary is a current dictionary using modern language in the same format as its popular series of legal books and is becoming a standard for regular citizens, permanent residents, visa holders and temporary residents who have encountered legal troubles and do not have a law degree. The Cornell Legal Information Institute has excerpts of this dictionary on WEX.

Blacks Law Dictionary

  • 2nd Edition (1910) – https://thelawdictionary.org/letter/a/
  • 11th Edition (2019) – https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/products/law-books/blacks-law-dictionary

Nolo Plain English Law Dictionary

  • Hardback and Paperback on Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Nolos-Plain-English-Dictionary-Gerald-Hill/dp/1413310370
  • E-Book for Android on Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Nolo_s_Plain_English_Law_Dictionary?id=FG9X-8LNT1IC&hl=en_US
  • E-Book for iPhone/iPad on Apple App Store – https://books.apple.com/us/book/nolos-plain-english-law-dictionary/id710940104

Wex Legal Dictionary and Legal Encyclopedia by Cornell Legal Information Institute

This is a good reference but not yet widely used and it uses excerpts from Nolo. Blacks and Nolo are already de facto standards for legal studies. Cornell is a premier educational institution and one of the 8 Ivy League Universities in the US so it is a great reference to have and study as a supplement to any legal studies.

  •  https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex

English Dictionaries

For regular English dictionaries, I personally prefer Oxford because it is the oldest educational institute in the English speaking world. Other dictionaries that are acceptable for cross reference are Cambridge, Collins and Merriam-Websters.

As we are in the information age, I prefer to use the online versions and all 4 dictionaries have a free online version that is acceptable for beginner to intermediate English speakers studying law and creating legislative history reports.

Free Online Versions

  • Lexico powered by Oxford – https://www.lexico.com/
  • Cambridge Free Online Dictionary – https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/
  • Collins Free Online Dictionary – https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/
  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dictionary

Paid Online Versions

  • Oxford Dictionary – https://www.oed.com/

Collins, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster do not yet have paid dictionaries online and it is a work in progress that will modernize English learning. A free online version will most likely remain online and will follow a similar format to Oxford where Lexico became the free site and OED became the paid site for advanced English learning.


Encyclopedias do provide excellent sources and references but it depends who wrote the article or web page, what their credentials are and how extensive their knowledge on the subjects are. Encyclopedias provide history and context that include world events, personal accounts of events, and summaries about events that can help with understanding the events that occurred surrounding a piece of legislation. At the beginner to intermediate level, encyclopedias should be allowed to be used as a source but at the advanced to expert levels, the encyclopedia should only be used to gather a synopsis of events and the researcher should refer to the actual legislation, documents and treaties mentioned in the encyclopedia as their sources and references.

  • Encyclopedia Britannica – https://www.britannica.com/
    This is the worlds oldest encyclopedia and for a long time, as recent as 1990, they were considered the world’s only encyclopedia with most other encyclopedias being classified as an almanac after removing any plagiarized content.They provide a lot of free information online but have a paid version for professional use and unlimited access to their content.
  • Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
    Wikipedia is the worlds first open copyright encyclopedia that accepts original authorship for submission into its website. It has moved to using creative commons as a licensing method for its authors and copyright holders and properly documents the authors who have an author profile along with all their edits.It is a great resource and 1/3rd or 33%  of Wikipedia was written by Steven Pruitt who is a Records and Information Officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection as of 2017. He attended College of Williams and Mary, one of the first 9 colleges in the USA, and has an American Lineage going back to Colonial Days.

    Wikipedia expects to get more authors like Steven Pruitt on their website to give even more credibility to the public encyclopedia and always includes sources and references on the bottom of each completed or mostly completed article. Articles still in progress are usually called stubs or a place holder page and easily identifiable from their completed works.

Notes on Links

For this page, I choose to put the entire link next to the relevant words rather than making in inline link because I reference a lot of government sources and official legal text or resources. This allows a reader to see the full url and copy and paste into another tab in their browser without worrying about malicious attacks or “hacking”.

I do not engage in malicious hacking nor do I ever plan on using this website as a trap or honey pot, but hope that gives some assurance of reliability to any new readers.